Casablanca- Right after Morocco got its independence, creating a national education system was a priority with pressing urgency. In 1957, King Mohammed V put the “Royal Commission for the Reform of Education” in charge of forging an educational policy for the kingdom.
The task was immeasurably challenging, as the bulk of the Moroccan population was illiterate at that time. With that in mind, the said commission formulated four fundamental objectives: the generalization of education, the unification of educational structures, the “Moroccanization” of the teaching staff and the arabisation of curricula.
Among these four processes, the one of arabization stirred acute controversy, which has persisted until today. Since the very start, this process was subject to a sharp probe: Should the Moroccan educational system have been entirely or partially arabized? Should its implementation have been immediate or gradual? These questions among others have drained the minds of the Moroccan authority.
After its independence, the Kingdom of Morocco was confronted with the challenging mission of forging an educational system qualified to educate all Moroccan children who reached school age. Yet, there had existed an educational system during the protectorate, but it was elitist in essence, and educating Moroccan children had not been its priority.
During the protectorate, the French built an educational system grounded on hierarchy. On top of it were French educational institutions exclusively catered to Europeans and Jewish Moroccans. The curriculum was exclusively taught in French. Second in the hierarchy were institutions set up for the Moroccan elite. These utilized curricula almost identical to those institutions addressed to Europeans. Only 10 hours per week were devoted to teaching Arabic.
Third were institutions addressed to middle-class Moroccans. They were taught 20 hours of Arabic per week. Some of them were called “private schools” because nationalist networks financed them.
The French educational system in Morocco was evidently exclusive. Thus, the great majority of Moroccan children could not attend school. In 1952, only 60,000 Moroccan children, predominantly boys, went to school, whilst thousands remained uneducated.
As a reaction to the educational eclecticism imposed by the colonizer, nationalist movements multiplied private schools, which, a few years away from independence, counted only 30,000 students. One of the principal objectives of these private schools was to generalize the Arabic language with two goals in mind: democratizing access to education and affirming the Arab identity of the Kingdom.
After its independence, Morocco could not yet aspire to a successful arabization with the lack of professors of Arabic in the kingdom. To remedy this problem, Morocco hired professors from other countries, such as Egypt, Syria and Sudan. The Royal Commission for the Reform of Education then proceeded with a progressive arabization of the educational system. Only in 1962 was the first grade in primary school totally arabized before it was progressively generalized to all primary school grades.
Between 1966 and 1973, there was a pause in the linguistic policy of the kingdom mainly due to the process of generalization. According to Spanish academician Montserrat Benitez, the number of personnel arriving in Moroccan middle schools was too high for the Ministry of Education to handle. The state was thus compelled to halt its linguistic policy and shifted focus to educational policy, workforce management and investment in the education sector.
The suspension of the arabization process was also attributed to the “War of Sands,” involving Morocco and Algeria in 1963. In reaction to the Egyptian support for the Algerian army, Morocco sacked hundreds of Egyptian professors in the kingdom. The impingements of such act were tremendously damaging to a frail enough Moroccan educational system.
The hindrances that the arabization process encountered were also imputed to the fact that it was torn between the dissimilar interests of political protagonists in Morocco. While Morocco’s first political party, Istiqlal, sought an immediate and complete arabization of the educational system, the Monarch opposed the generalization of Arabic and opted for a more progressive version of this linguistic policy.
In 1970, the opposition made a radical call to action. Political parties, syndicates and intellectuals, headed by Allal El Fassi, signed a petition demanding the urgent need for the arabization of the educational system. The Monarch approved subsequently approved their claim. King Hassan II thus appointed Azeddine Laraqui, from the Istiqlal Party as the Minister of National Education.
The Monarch seemed to have a different notion of the arabization policy. The Monarch aligned itself with Islamic movements to counter the influence of a growing leftist movement. This twisted the arabization process to its progressive ideal that defined it in its beginning. While subjects such as philosophy, geography and history were arabized in 1975, the arabization of other subjects such as mathematics, physics and natural science proceeded in a progressive pace from 1982 to 1988, resulting in a reform process that lasted more than 30 years.
“Azeddine Laraqui was a carrier of the majority’s demands concerning the generalization of arabization,” stated Moroccan sociologist Mohamed El Ayadi, “To cut the herb under the Islamists’ feet, the monarch gave the green light to total arabization but ensured that scientific higher education would remain intact.” This choice was driven by the belief that scientific subjects are better taught in foreign languages.
The abrupt decision taken by the ministry to totally arabize certain subjects had a negative repercussion on teachers, who, overnight, were expected to start teaching their subjects in Arabic, without any formal training. Somewhat counterintuitively, teachers opted for Moroccan Arabic (Darija) in their classes. Consequently, their students didn’t master Arabic nor French.
Bilingualism was still at its climax in Morocco before the 1980s. During this decade, Morocco was not on good terms with the government of French Prime Minister Pierre Maurois. According to sociologist El Ayadi, King Hassan II rid Moroccan schools of all cooperating French instructors. Morocco subsequently hired teachers from Bulgaria, Romania and the Ukraine. These professors had mastered neither French nor Arabic. As a corollary, the next generation of Moroccans mastered no particular language of communication.
The arabization process had been doomed to failure since its initiation because it was torn between differing interests. The indecisiveness of the Moroccan state led to the obstruction of such delicate political decisions as the complete arabization of the Moroccan educational system. The monarch opted for a progressive version whilst intellectuals opted for a complete and urgent application of this linguistic policy. This engendered a linguistic imbalance in Moroccan schools.
Moroccans students were deprived of the mastery of any of the languages that represented the very core of Morocco’s linguistic diversity. Instead of focusing on the consolidation of the essential structure of Morocco’s educational system, working on generalizing education for all Moroccan children and creating a balance between private and public educational institutions, the state put all its weight on the linguistic policy of arabization, in a desperate bid to radically rid the educational system of the leftovers of an educational system previously implemented by the colonizer.
Article based on Zamane Magazine, issue of August-September 2013