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Foreign Language Teaching: the French Vs the Moroccan Education System

Morocco Must Rethink Its Approach to Ensuring Social Stability

By Mbarek Ahuilat

Orléans, France – More than two decades and Morocco suffers from being the least efficient when it comes to education. The latest 2014 UNESCO international education report established Morocco at the 143rd place among 164 countries. By the way, France is 8th.

It’s real shame for this country, which has done several reforms in this domain since the 1960’s. And we should not forget that Morocco is still dedicating nearly 5,4 % of its GNP to education each year. Taking failure after failure, the educational sector cannot apparently achieve a real reform and the state is getting into vain and inefficient expenses in the absence of a rigorous plan which is to be directed by real experts, linguists and specialists.

Education is the major essence of development. It’s the criterion by which we can judge the greatness of a nation and the mirror of a given era society. And as the greatest forward thinking and visionary “unfortunately lost” Mehdi El Mandjara “Education is not a priority, It is the Priority.” Mehdi El Mandjara also emphasized on education and said it to be the clue of development in his co-written book; “Value of Values” with Rich Hickey.

But what does the Moroccan system of education suffers from? What are the means that should absolutely been implemented to ameliorate it? This article has the modest ambition to raise these questions and will especially emphasize on the foreign languages learning at the first place and a comparative study to the French system of education of foreign languages learning.

This first article will focus on the French foreign language learning system from primary school to high school in France so as to make a comparison. The following articles will cope with the Moroccan education system as related to foreign languages learning.

It’s in 1991, and during the Rüschlikon Symposium, that the European shared reference framework of languages was represented for the first time in Europe. This framework offers instruments for the elaboration of teaching and learning programs, guides and instruments of assessment.

In France, foreign languages learning is of a high importance and really reinforced since 1991 and thanks to the European shared reference framework of languages (CERCL[1]).

So, In France foreign languages are taught since the first grades of school. And the CERCL is the basis shared by the European Union state members in the conceiving or the elaboration of programs. It is the fruit of several years of linguistic research leaded by the EU experts in the domain of education and applied linguistics. Published and established starting from 1991, it constitutes a new and a total approach which aims to rethink language teaching objectives and methods. And it mainly provides shared cornerstones of programs, diplomas and certificates conceptions. In this way, it also fosters the professional and educative mobility of learners.

The framework in question is a conceived tool to respond to the general objective of the European council, which is to reach a bigger unity of its members and to obtain this goal via the adoption of a shared approach in the cultural field. The other goal is a political one as well. It is to establish a European stability against “xenophoabia” and to ensure Democracy proper functioning.  So, languages and cultures can very well contribute to fulfill those goals and promote a better awareness of the OTHER. It’s a plurilinguism promotion tool, whatever the level of mastering is. Still, the logic of mastering several languages is as important as the interaction of these different languages and cultures.

This framework introduces at least 4 novelties or innovations:

1 – A common reference levels (from A1 to C2).

The global language competence scale reveals 3 general levels subdivided into six large common levels:

Level A: elementary user of the language (= mandatory school), itself subdivided into introductive or discovery level (A1) and intermediate or common level (A2).

Level B: independent user (= high school), subdivided into threshold level (B1) and advanced or independent level (B2). It corresponds to a limited but efficient competence (Wilkins[2]) or an appropriate answer in common situation (Trim[3])

Level C: experimented user of the language, subdivided into C1 (autonomous) and C2 (mastery).

These levels mark out foreign languages learning. And C2 should not be confused with the native language competence. This latter is situated beyond and cannot therefore constitutes the ideal model for evaluating language learners.

The Common European Framework of  Reference for Languages, and thanks to these competences descriptors that it represents for each level, permits establishing a solid and objective basis for the reciprocal learning of languages. This kind of standardization allows coherent referential elaboration in each language and for each common level. It also helps teachers, students, lessons designers and certificates institutes to coordinate their efforts and situate their productions; one to each others.

2 – The communicative competence division into language communication activities.

These activities fall under four important areas: reception (listening and listening), production (oral expression and reading), interaction (taking part into a conversation) and mediation (namely sharing and taking part into a conversation). To be more particular, the competences to develop are the following: oral understanding, continuous oral expression, oral interaction, written comprehension and writing. So, we can henceforth talk of “language communication activity groups” instead of  “competence groups.”

The notion of “competence” aims to designate more general components: socio-linguistics, pragmatics or linguistics (this latter including lexis, grammar and phonology) without forgetting the cultural competence (all that one should know about the country where the language is spoken and the proper culture of the country in question.)

3 – The notion of “Task” (une tâche):

This is very interesting as the task is highly linked to the action approach theory. It should be done through the way of realizing a task and accomplishing certain actions. So, the worth of the language is not dissociated from the accomplished actions by the speaker or the social actor. This notion can not only integrate the pragmatic actions (for example assembling a kit furniture following an instruction notice) but the conceptual (writing an argumentative or a book) one as well.

Following this perspective, the linguistic competence may be either completely aroused as in the case of writing a book or partly as in the instance of assembling a kit furniture following an instruction notice or not at all as in the case of preparing a plate from memory. Hence, the linguistic competence is a competence type which comes into the task realization.

We may up to now summarize le frame in question and say it to be the amount of competences mastering levels ( linguistic or non linguistic) entering in the tasks’ achievement. This approach fosters some incidents on the “learnings” and their conception. This means that we should classify and cross the linguistic activities and associate the “sayings” to the “doings.”

4 – A new defining of the communication competence and which take into consideration numerous organized components from A1 to C3:

(The linguistic component, The sociolinguistic component and The pragmatic or practical component.)

4.1 – The linguistic component is entailed via the tasks and communication situations nature. It is connected with the “know” (knowledge) and the “know how” (the skills) related to vocabulary, syntax and phonology.

4.2 – the sociolinguistic component (close to the sociocultural competence) is to be highly considered because the language is a social phenomenon. Speaking is not only making sentences but there comes into play all the language use features as well, namely social relationship markers, politeness and manners, popular wisdom expressions, dialects and accents.

4.3 – The pragmatic component refers to the action approach of the language and the discourse strategy choice to reach a precise goal. It is about organizing, adapting and structuring the speech. This component links and makes the connection between the speaker and the situation.

The sociolinguistic and pragmatic components are scarcely part of social environment of learning. Communicating is finally using linguistic codes (linguistic competence) related to an action (pragmatic competence) in a given socio-cultural and linguistic context (sociolinguistic competence).

This European shared reference framework of languages is to be dissociated from the European language portfolio. This latter is developed into three versions: primary school, high school and also for adults. It’s important to emphasize on it because there’s always confusion between the two. But this is another subject on which we will surely come back and talk about.

To conclude, this framework is of great importance and highly profitable to the students and the teachers as well. It’s too early to judge the impact of the frame on the “learnings,” especially when foreign languages don’t figure in the list of prior disciplines unlike French and sciences. They are of great importance in the mandatory learning list. Still, English dominates in the secondary school and starting from the 11th grade (junior high school)[4].

Unfortunately, the Moroccan system of education still seems to be allergic and even sometimes hostile to any foreign contribution. The politics of Arbization had great and bad consequences on the education in general and technology and sciences in particular. This politics has really been a fiasco[5] as Elbiad Mohamed the Moroccan linguist believes.

But today, Morocco’s education should face the news challenges. One of which is the adaptation to globalization and modernity. A big part of the Moroccan city-dwellers are partly francophone and constitutes somehow the elites of the country. In fact, the higher education courses are principally taught in French and so it creates a gap for the students. These latter have up to now exclusively studied in the Arab language. Some say that the arabization is a certain identity protecting shield. Sure enough, French is a part of morocco’s modern history for various reasons and consequently shapes a part of his identity. Still, one can be conscious and respectful towards his history and cultural heritage even if he learns in French. This is what’s going on in the Moroccan private schools and which are sprouting up like mushrooms.

So, what about the Moroccan language landscape, so be it public or private? How is the foreign language learning policy doing? What are the academic options and plans?

It’s true that French is the second language in Morocco. So, what about any other language such as English or Spanish or even German? What is the charter of education and training doing today? What should be done to improve the foreign language learning in Moroccan schools? Is English replacing French as a second language in Morocco?

[1] Le Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues/ Official journal/ Ministy of education/ May 30th 2001.

[2] David A. Wilkins: British Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Reading, was the Secretary of the first Executive Committee of the British Association for Applied Linguistics at its founding at Reading, in 1967, and whose chairman was Pit Corder. In his “Linguistics in language teaching” 1972 – London: Edward Arnold.

[3] John Leslie Melville Trim (born in 1924 – died on the 19th of January 2013), Director of the Council of Europe‘s Modern Languages projects from 1971 to 1997. He was a key promoter of the “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.”

[4] Junior High School: le “Collège” ( starts at 11 years old).

[5] Elbiad Mohamed. “A Sociolinguistic Study of the Arabization Process and its Conditioning Factors in Morocco.”  1985.

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