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Reflections on the Moroccan Educational System: (Part 1: Pitfalls)

Rabat - Morocco is undoubtedly one of the few countries in the world that is spending over 25% of its yearly budget[1] on education and employing a true army of educators and functionaries in the sector but not reaching the expected results of equality, equity and quality.

Rabat – Morocco is undoubtedly one of the few countries in the world that is spending over 25% of its yearly budget[1] on education and employing a true army of educators and functionaries in the sector but not reaching the expected results of equality, equity and quality.

The political will is definitely there, but the way, for some unknown reason, is lacking even after the implementation of a ten-year reform 2000-2009 initiated by the Special Committee on Education and Training (COSEF) through the National Charter for Education and Training (CNEF). This, sadly, proved to be, somewhat a flop, in the end, with the government indirectly attesting its failure by adopting an emergency plan to salvage the whole enterprise (2009-2011).

It goes without saying that Morocco with its establishment, political parties, forces in presence and the population, at large, want to see the educational system overhauled to become productive, at home, and competitive, on the world scene. The reason these well-intentioned reforms did not achieve the expected results are threefold:

  • Objectives too numerous and too general: the COSEF reform approach was too spread out, too fuzzy and too ideological, a times, to achieve results;
  • The reform failed to build within the system a viable evaluation scheme to guide the process and avoid potential pitfalls on the way; and
  • The reform failed to identify, in the first place, the congenital ailments of the Moroccan educational system to lead the reform on the right path.

However, all is not gloomy, for the country has, in the meantime, achieved some important success in the EFA front, since the Dakar Conference of 2000, because the EFA goals were well-articulated and their implementation mechanism clearly outlined and equipped with the necessary evaluation devices.

Educational challenges of 2000

At the dawn of the third millennium, Morocco was in the grips of a grave educational crisis, the system in place failed to create the necessary responsible elites able to solve the problems of the country and chief among them: education. The existing elites entertained hypocritical discourse about national education. Publicly, they opted for an arabized system, but, in practice, they all sent their children to foreign educational institutions accredited in Morocco such as the French, Spanish and American schools and later on to European or American universities, for higher education.

Miserable school conditions

The message was clear to the rank and file, the elites, from well-to-do families, were trained in foreign schools and came back to rule, whereas national schools formed menial workers and low-grade technicians, and universities, with generalist curriculum, jobless graduates condemned to demonstrate in front of the parliament on end.

The major endemic problem of this educational system is its deadly insularity and self-perpetuating philosophy, so the end result was much dissatisfaction and pain. The system, in its entirety seemed to be mediocre and unable to meet the expectations of the whole country. For many, education is one thing and harsh reality is another because the system in place was unable to link itself to the reality and requirements of the job market.

But, Morocco, yet in spite of the progress realized at the economic level, was still pulled down to the bottom by the weights of illiteracy. Indeed, the statistics of UNESCO, published in 2003,[2] showed a total of 51.2% illiterates nationwide: with 38.2% among the male population and 63.9% among the female. Among the age group of 15-24 the rate was 32.7%, at the national level, with 24% among the boys and 41.8 % among the girls. In this area, Morocco ranked 16th among 19 Arab countries and only came before Yemen, Mauritania and Iraq.

Shawn Magin, in a study entitled “Illiteracy in the Arab Region: A Meta Study,” published in 2010, states, quite rightly, that the root causes of high illiteracy in the Arab world are still unknown, but it is widely believed that various factors are accused of this plight. Some of these causes that apply to Morocco are as follows:

  • The disconnect between literary Arabic, used as the medium of instruction in schools, and the various dialects of Arabic spoken;
  • Poor pedagogical practices connected to the teaching in the Koranic schools ;
  • Complication of the Arabic orthography because of the lack of vowel diacritics;
  • Social reasons such as the prejudice against female students ;
  • Economic reasons such as low economic status of parents and the lack of funding for schools ;
  • School failure; and
  • Children’s lack of exposure to literary Arabic before they begin school.

However, it must be pointed out, with much emphasis, that the problem of language is even more pronounced in Morocco because beside literary Arabic and colloquial dialects, there is, also, another more complex level between Tamazight and Arabic in its two formats. In Tamazight speaking areas, in all Atlas Mountains and in the Rif, many children dropped out of school into illiteracy because they found it difficult to learn a new language and follow the course at the same time.

Political pressures and international processes leading to the change

Pressure on the government to reform education came from various sides, be they national or international, on the grounds that the system in place is outdated and totally inadequate for a country that is aspiring to develop fast and become competitive on the international scene.

What was wrong with the system in the 80s and 90s of the last century?

The educational system was flawed, since independence, for the following reasons:

Archaic and outdated:

The educational system was inherited from the French Protectorate in the 20s of the last century. It was put in place to educate the children of the notables cooperating with the French colonial powers and to train and form functionaries for its administration, no more. When Morocco gained its independence in 1956, one of its sovereign decisions was to generalize education to all Moroccans and by so doing abrogate the colonial law that made it elitist. As such, important state funds where made available to the Ministry of National Education that embarked on an ambitious program of building schools and training teachers and “morocconizing” curriculum and school personnel. However, these changes did not concern the teaching methods and the philosophy of the system. The system aimed only at training people to become state functionaries, police and military, in general. As such, people sent their children to school, not to learn and become literate, but to get a job and a means of living. In this fashion, the state guaranteed explicitly every graduate, a job in the administration and the latter preferred this sector to the nascent private one because employment with the state is for life and no return is expected from the civil servant.

Teaching Tamazight in schools situated in Amazigh areas

Koranic school pedagogy:

The whole educational system adopted a philosophy based on « blind obedience » which finds its origin in the religious realm. The learner is a disciple: moored” and the teacher a master: “sheikh.” In this interesting relationship, the learner remains a learner in presence of his master even if he, ultimately, becomes himself a master. The parents, out of religious indoctrination, encouraged this patron-client system in the school: the teacher is always right, even if he is wrong, and the student has always to show obsequious obedience. The parents even went one step further in this imbalanced educational relationship and assured the master of their allegiance to his pedagogy by stating that he could well kill their son, if he resists his teachings, and they will, wholeheartedly, oblige to bury him without any contestation, whatsoever. Sadly this pedagogy, finding its origin in the dogmatic religious school of thought, produced obedient “subjects” and not responsible “citizens.” This educational system ultimately molded followers and not leaders and outlawed any form of critical reflection and sense of responsibility.

Feeding pedagogy:

The general approach in the Moroccan educational system is to feed the student information, have him digest it and on the day of the examination, regurgitate it. The teachers encouraged this controversial concept of: bida3atuna ruddat ilayna, meaning «our merchandise duly returned to us.» This system being an offshoot of the Koranic Pedagogy discouraged reflection, critical discussion and any form of personal initiative and sense of responsibility. All learners, whether in the primary, secondary or tertiary phases are considered « minors » and not adults, able of acceptable reflection and healthy thinking.

Authority first and foremost:

The whole educational system is based on the concept of authority: sulta ,and in this it is a mirror image of the political system. For the holders of this philosophy, any loss, at any time, of the educational process of this, leads to the loss of respect: hiba, and the total crumbling of the whole teaching process. The problem with this approach is not so much the authority but the fact that the instructor is always right, and cannot accept any form of questioning of his work. This entails two important and dangerous conclusions: the instructor is always right and there is, as such, no room for feedback and ultimately evaluation of the teacher and the system. The concept of evaluation for improvement is still today foreign to the Moroccan educational system and students are discouraged from evaluating their teachers, curriculum, teaching strategies and school administration.

Limited horizon:

In higher secondary, students were either sent to study “lettres” (liberal arts) or “science” (scientific subjects) and the choice is not theirs, but it is rather made by the school. After getting their baccalaureate, if they are good students and have excellent grades, they will recruited by the prestigious “Grandes Eccles,” if they are average, they will go to the public universities that offer all the same curriculum and are plagued by repetitive strikes, not for pedagogical matters, but for political reasons. Because of repetitive strikes students never complete their curriculum and by the time they graduate, unless they land a job with the state, the private sector shuns them.

Data vs skills:

The Moroccan educational system was flawed because it advocated cramming students’ heads with useless information and no skills or competencies, whatsoever. So by the time they graduate, they are unable to function and, as a result, their employability is jeopardized greatly.


In the time of the Protectorate, the French divided Morocco into two zones: Maroc utile (Useful Morocco) and Maroc inutile (Useless Morocco). Useful Morocco was the rich agricultural plains that showed no resistance to French colonization, and Useless Morocco, the poor and less accessible mountain areas that opposed French colonization for two decades. So, the French privileged the plains at the expense of mountains. Thus, all the schools were built in the plains and only few in the mountains, which, after all, were reserved exclusively to the sons of Amazigh notables collaborating with the colonial powers. Consequently, some Moroccans had more ability and opportunity to learn than others, a situation that led to a high rate of illiteracy among the Amazigh people.

Alarming rate of illiteracy:

The lack of accessibility to education in mountainous and remote areas, led to a high rate of illiteracy in these areas and especially among girls and women. On independence, in 1956, King Mohammed V launched a vast campaign of literacy, all over the country, nicknamed nour (light). The response was very high, but unfortunately this campaign was suspended in 1963, when his son Hassan II became king. Critics and political opposition figures argue that this monarch, in his Machiavelli approach to power, declared to his aids that literacy is a bad thing for the regime because it produces challenging citizens, and he wants, instead, obedient subjects. If the campaign nour was allowed to continue, then, Morocco would have had a high rate of literate people today and this would have had a positive impact on society and on economy.

Fighting female illiteracy in Morocco

In 1982, after many years of severe drought, the country was on the verge of bankruptcy, and, thus, appealed for help from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These international institutions lent money to the country, rescheduled its debts and imposed strict conditions on public spending, freezing the country’s hiring, liberalizing the economy and stopping subsidies on some food staples. This restructuring of public finance lasted almost a decade.

One of the most urgent reforms required by the international financial institutions was the immediate overhauling of the ailing educational system. In 1999, the king launched, in great fanfare, the Commission spéciale éducation-formation –COSEF- and declared the time period 2000-2009, the national decade of Moroccan educational reform. From the start, there were two problems with the make-up of this commission ; there were too many politicians in it, because the monarch wanted it to be a consensual tool to avoid taking blame alone in case of demise, and two few educators and pedagogues.

However, 5 years later the king received a secret report stating that the reform is plagued by many structural problems and might not achieve the expected results, after all. The weekly economic publication, La Vie Economique, in an article written by Aniss Maghri, on 15 July 2005 showed concerns at the probable failure of the reform, according to experts:

Le Maroc serait-il en train de rater, encore une fois, la réforme de son système d’enseignement ? Lancée, il y a cinq ans, suite au travail colossal effectué par la Cosef (Commission spéciale éducation-formation), cette réforme, qui promettait de remettre sur les rails un secteur balloté depuis l’indépendance par des stratégies plus politiques que pragmatiques (l’arabisation en est l’exemple flagrant), a en grande partie échoué. On ne s’étonne donc pas que la confidentialité totale ait entouré le rapport-bilan que les membres de la commission ont remis au souverain, le 30 juin dernier. Un rapport explosif.


Conseil Supérieur de l’Enseignement. 2008. Etat et Perspectives du Système d’Education et de Formation. Vol. 1. Réussir l’Ecole Pour Tous. Rabat: Rapport annuel 2008.

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Tawil, S. 2006. “Quranic Education and Social Change in Northern Morocco: Perspectives from Chefchaouen“, Comparative Education Review, Vol. 50, 3: 496-517.

UNESCO. 2001. Programme d’appui au développement du premier cycle de l’enseignement fondamental marocain (700/MOR/13). Rapport d’évaluation externe.

Wagner, D. A. 1994. Literacy, Culture and Development: Becoming Literate in Morocco. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[1]United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics.; UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Source tables

[2] UNESCO. Literacy and Adult Education in the Arab World: Regional Report for the CONFINTEA V, Mid-Term Review Conference. (Bangkok, September 2003), 12.

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