Home Education Foreign Language Teaching: French vs. Moroccan Learning System (Part 2)

Foreign Language Teaching: French vs. Moroccan Learning System (Part 2)

Reforming the Moroccan Education System- A Reform of Perceptions

By Mbarek Ahuilat

Orléans, France – Morocco’s latest commitment was launched 5 years ago in an ambitious reform of its education system. This reform takes aim at generalizing the mandatory school on the one hand—especially in rural areas—then adapting and modernizing the programs and teachers’ practice on the second hand. If this reform deals naturally with the linguistic issue, it does not really cast doubt on the present language distribution and roles in school. Nonetheless, the linguistic situation and dynamism, particularly in urban zones, is a crucial factor that surely influences Moroccan schooling.

The major spoken languages in Morocco are dialectal Arabic[1] and Amazigh, as they assure inter-comprehension and communication in the society. Hassani Arabic[2] is spoken in the south of Morocco. The three languages are spoken and understood by nearly all; yet, there are still some areas in Morocco where people are unilingual.

Dialectal Arabic, though it is the native language for a great amount of people, remains the gate to school. But still, pupils need to study hard because the syntax and diction is vastly different from that of classical Arabic, which is taught in schools. Furthermore, more than 40% of the population speaks Amazigh[3]. Today, thanks to the latest constitutional reforms, the Amazigh language is an official language and is taught in schools. However, there is much difficulty in finding teachers to teach it.

For any outside observer, the francophone character of Morocco is undoubtedly undiscussed. The French language is omnipresent, especially in cities: shops, restaurants, transports, ads. In all these fields, the writings are at least bilingual, if not exclusively in French. But things are different as one goes farther from these urban areas; so, the only way to learn French, for the children of the countryside, is school. As a matter of fact, the possibility applying their knowledge of French outside an academic setting is extremely limited.

Today, there are four languages—Arabic, Amazigh, French, and English—that share the Moroccan public space and create particularly complex diglossic situation. These four languages appear across the whole Moroccan education system. Only standard Arabic enjoys a real official status, as well as Tamazight, since the 2011 Moroccan Constitution. French does not really enjoy acknowledgement as an official language, but it is the first, “privileged foreign language.” This might translate into a certain reluctance to consider French as a gate to modernity and the world. Sill, French remains a major instrument of career and school, social and professional promotion.

English, we notice, is not the language used for everyday activities, as is the case for French; students only learn it at the secondary school. There are colonial and historical reasons for the usage of French and Spanish, though these reasons are less important nowadays—especially for Spanish. And even disregarding language legacy in the country, English is taking the biggest part of the “loot” if one thinks of the Moroccan education as plunder. A lot of Moroccans see English today as the language of communication and a desired culture; it is used and admired for its status and power. Another reason why English is becoming more and more popular in Morocco is that it is not perceived as a threat to Arabic, which might not be the case of French and Spanish. Currently, English is taught at the secondary and lower secondary levels due to the enactment of the educational reform of 2000. There are even more private schools and centers that teach English at lower levels.

Furthermore, enrollments in English language classes have grown quickly within the last decade. Many English centers and schools have reported an annual growth of more than 20% between 2005 and 2007[4]. What’s more is that Morocco’s long history of multilingualism suggests that young people—whether they study English or not—have a positive attitude towards the growth of English.

Arabic and/or French use in school

As previously stated, the Arabization of primary and secondary schools in Morocco did not impact high school (except for some humanities and social sciences disciplines). Otherwise, all teachings are given in French, especially in courses that directly lead to a career such as business, management, and engineering. Although French is the language used to teach post- baccalaureate and high school studies, English is getting to be more widely used and spoken. Today, many baccalaureate students face obstacles when starting high studies. Raising standards in French and communication techniques is the first proposed solution; however, this solution is not sufficient to make students fluent in the language.

The first big problem in Moroccan education is the gap between Arabized secondary school and French high school. Why is this a problem? On the one hand, the French language is not very precise in Moroccan academia. On the other hand, there are many hesitations and frequent changes in the definition of programs and didactic approaches. Sure enough, it is very difficult to reconcile the two trends of either considering French as a mother language or considering it as a first foreign language. Until the 1980’s—thanks to the weight of Morocco’s French history and emotional relation to France—the approach to the language was directly inspired by French programs and teachers who practice in the framework of education cooperation between the two countries. The most recent illustration of this came in the 2002 high school reform that was followed by the elementary and secondary schools reform: the return of the literary classics, methodical and/or analytical reading, sequences or projects, and language activities integration. Unfortunately, the arsenal of French teaching in the 1990’s was wholly reproduced and imitated in Morocco without being adapted to the Moroccan educational context.

The second problem of Moroccan education is dealing with the education laws from the 1980’s, which are still in effect today: their learning principles are highly inspired from the French teaching and learning system. This approach is not good because of at least two reasons. First, the teachers are not taught the didactic and pedagogical techniques of French learning; rather, they are perpetuating lecturing methods, grammar learning, and purely notional approaches. Second, government reluctance has created great skepticism among teachers, and consequently rejection of further reforms. Moreover, teachers have pointed out the discrepancy, yet have do not feel that their superiors listen to them.

The national “mitaq” on education

So, what about the national education and mitaq[5]? How are foreign languages taught in Morocco? In a speech on October 8th 1999, his majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco insisted on the fact that education is one of the most important issues to deal with. So, the strategy of the MEN[6] was summarized in the national mitaq. In article 117, it emphasizes the mastery of foreign languages, which came into effect in the 2000-1 school year. It insists on:

– Learning first foreign languages, starting from the second grade of primary school, with more emphasis on speaking and listening.

– Learning second foreign languages, starting from the fifth grade of primary school, with more emphasis on speaking and listening.

– Learning of any foreign language is to be accompanied by the cultural and communicational means so as to strengthen language use and speaking abilities of the students.

– The use of technology is also to be advised when it can help the learner improve his capacities and competences within the target language.

– Universities and high schools are to create units and offer lessons of Arabic, Tamazight, and other foreign languages. They should also improve the professional language of French.

– Improve the preparation of foreign language teachers by frequently assessing students in language acquirement.

– Creating a foreign language plan for teaching and academic improvements before June 2000.

Considering the linguistic goals article 112 article of the mitaq, this plan will be applied through:

– The creation of training programs for teachers and trainees.

– Choosing and training new teachers, deepening the training of language teachers via continuous learning and training, and using up-to-date and suitable teaching methods and didactics.

– Designing and determining the means of assessment with timelines and the financial resources to realize them.

Article 118 insists that it’s up to education and training officials to establish specialized, local institutions to realize these foreign languages goals and objectives. They are to be done through close cooperation between the specialized institutions, the most efficient human resources, and national means and infrastructures.

Notwithstanding, The 2012 Education For All report, published by the Secretary of National Education, deals with the advancement of the mitaq goals: it compiles and analyzes the results of efforts made within the last decade. This report was published in cooperation with UNESCO; UNICEF; the National Education, Sciences, and Culture committees; and representatives of the other tangential Moroccan ministries. This report describes a global evolution and a small improvement between 2008-2009 and 2011-2012 in the education of young children. The proportion of “scholarized” children has risen from 55.9% to 62.8%[7]; however, the report affirms that the impact of young adults is not completely obvious: the literacy rate of 15-24 years-olds in 2008 was only 77%[8]. This places Morocco in an uncomfortable situation when compared to countries with similar economies.

English in Moroccan schools

Many people think that private schools in Morocco are better than public schools. Yet I disagree due to factors of quality and seriousness. Private school teachers are sometimes not as academically-inclined as their public counterparts, and usually pedagogy is rarely taken into consideration in private schools.

English language teaching was first introduced during the era of the French protectorate in the 1930’s, though French was the main means of instruction (and it continues to be so even after independence). Moroccans have always been a multi-lingual people: Arabic, Berber, French. However, after the “Arabization” period, the French language lost ground as the primary language. As a result, English has been carving out its place into Morocco—it has infiltrated the education system and socioeconomic life in Morocco.

However, the teaching of the English language in Morocco has some problems of its own. For example, English classes are overcrowded: there are usually about 35 students per class. This is too much, and the students are not that serious about their learning because they view English as useless and only a complementary subject.

Another hurdle in teaching English is the traditional pedagogic and didactical way of teaching. Most programs are very directive and do not give space to add value and extra activities such as speaking, watching, and listening. In the same vein, the different assessments given to students evaluate memorization—not the ability to speak and express oneself. Students only learn as much language that they need to pass the exam.

Another problem is that English resources are scarce. Resources such as language laboratories, books, audio, and videos are hard to come by in Morocco. Although there is access to the internet and social networks in the country, they are are not utilized properly to advance language learning at school or at home.

Additionally, English teachers are supposed to have gone through a highly quality preparation program. They should also follow a specialized learning path regarding didactics and teaching methodologies. This is scarcely the case, especially in private schools. Moroccan English teachers do not even really master the language itself, as the majority of teachers only hold a Bachelor’s degree—compared, for example, to France where one must hold a Master’s degree to be a teacher for any subject.

Furthermore, teacher themselves—insecure about their own linguistic competence—normally adopt a very magisterial pedagogy: a highly-framed approach that relies only on manuals. They do not even think of straying from their curricula, and memorization is, unfortunately, emphasized. Students are given little, if any, opportunity to take the floor and speak freely without being afraid of making mistakes. Much importance placed upon grammatical structures rather than competence in communication.

English pedagogy in Morocco must be transformed. First, an institutional framework and political policies are to play an important role in redefining the status of languages in schools. What’s more, they should give choice regarding the languages to be learned in school—and English must be one of the languages offered. English learning will progress under social and economic pressure.

The future of English in Morocco is not situated in school, but outside of it. This weakens even more the situation of Moroccans whose social, cultural, and professional promotion depends on public school. More than ever, linguistics and policy remain essential keys to the development of the country as whole: Mr. Daoudi Lahcen, former Minister of High School, stated that to be an engineer, one should speak, write, and read English very well. He added that today, English is the language of science.

The advantage is that Morocco, unlike many other countries such as France, is not experiencing a problem with English teacher recruitment. The number of applicants for the teaching profession far exceeds the teaching posts available. Also, teachers are not overworked in terms of teaching hours—the average is around 18 hours per week. When in school, they just teach; other matters are dealt with by special staff and administrators. Furthermore, during the summer they have at least two and a half months of holidays; this is usually enough to travel, read, and write.

So, the struggle between the language of Moliere and that of Shakespeare is raging today in Morocco. For me, there is enough place for both, or even more: Moroccans can learn other languages such as German, Chinese or Hebrew… why not?

To Read Part 1

[1] As known as the Moroccan Arabic or “Darija”

[2] Also called “hassaniyya“

[3] 2004 Moroccan census.

[4] Elizabeth S. Buckner, The growth of English language learning in Morocco: culture, class and status competition, p: 218.

[5] “Al mitaq” has many meanings in English: it stands for a treaty, an agreement, a convention or even a concordat. But in this article, it stands for the conclusions and consensus of a “specialized” committee on Moroccan education.

[6] National Education Ministry (Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale).

[7] ”Le rapport national sur l’éducation pour tous,” page 47.

[8] ”Le rapport national sur l’éducation pour tous,” page 92.

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