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Can US-Style Education Be Answer to Morocco’s Struggling Educational System?

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Rabat – Recent news that free education for the senior classes in Morocco will be fazed out bring out the concern about the lack of opportunities for students who cannot afford expensive private education, and are otherwise stuck in a failing public school system.

That is an issue which has long been on the forefront of discussion in the United States. The public education system in the US is widespread but uneven, with a wide variety of districts, which have varying results. Wealthier districts tend to have vigorous education, high acceptance rates to top universities, and a diversity of extracurricular activities and advanced programs which prepare students for higher education. Poor districts may often present failing, overcrowded schools with low literacy rates even in senior classes, high delinquency rate, discipline issues, and other problems. However, uneven funding is far from the only issue here, as there is no shortage of expenditures in large cities towards public school education, and yet the results are by and large disheartening.

Control by the unions, gross administrative mismanagement, bureaucratization of the educational process, overtesting, increasingly decentralized and “social” educational models, lack of discipline, lack of family involvement, dumbing down of the curriculum, and assorted ideological agendas at the core of public education are but a few contributing factors to the startling discrepancies in the outcomes. There is no shortage of public educational reform movements, yet at the core of it remains the central issue – any system, particularly one where the government is in charge of central management is corruptible. For that reasons, presenting choices to the families can avoid entrapment in a situation where talented and hardworking students are disadvantaged by the predetermined failures of others. Some of the innovative solutions to resolving this problem included:

  • School vouchers for parents who choose to educate their children privately. Instead of having to pay twice for the expensive private education, and subsidizing the public option through taxes, they are allowed to use their taxes towards a school of their choice.
  • Charter schools allow a greater diversity of privately run specialized schools, which work in partnership with the government, and yet still maintain control over specialized curriculum and focus. Like any private business, these schools are a risk. Some have been well organized and successful; while others failed.
  • Homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular as it provides an opportunity for flexibility and creativity, coupled with increasingly more thoughtful and well planned curricular developed by private companies.
  • The recently passed tax reform bill includes an amendment allowing parents to use some of their college fund savings towards public, private, or parochial school education.

There is no single answer for the best possible and affordable education, but there are options other than terrible local district schools and unaffordable private schools that allow students to prepare for universities. Increasingly, private schools accord merit scholarships based on tests and/or performance, while in many communities, parochial schools are subsidized based on financial need through communities, religious institutions, and private organizations.  It seems that Morocco is at a very early stage of exploring options outside the standard (and failing) models. The importance of providing ample opportunity for students to benefit from excellent education cannot be overestimated. Educational opportunity is the best way to break out of poverty or to avoid getting involved in criminal or extremist activity.  Nevertheless, the resources for testing a diversity of creative educational options appears to be lacking.  Whereas the United States has been increasingly invested into developing jobs training programs and skills development for young Moroccans seeking economic opportunities, school education has not been part of these packages. And perhaps working on developing joint models with diplomats may not be the best way to approach innovation.

Educational choice, at its heart, is entrepreneurial, and government bureaucracies tend to prefer the one-size fits all approach that stiffles creativity.  Furthermore, although, for instance, French model schools (Alliance Francaise), have been successful to some extent, this may not be the right for everybody, and may no longer be the best indigenous response to the direction Morocco is seeking to develop as a country. Perhaps greater integration with other African countries that it is currently pursuing will emphasizing other structures, educational concepts, or learning priorities.  That, however, does not mean that there is no room for partnerships, and pedagogical exchanges with assorted counterparts from around the world for an exchange of best practices and development of innovative concepts.  This is one of the directions for which there is likely a great future in cooperation between the United States and Morocco.  There is no shortage of existing exchange programs, and cooperation agreements, and yet they all have limitations. None, for instance, is aimed exclusively at school age children or educators. Fulbright is more of a research scholarship with Visa-related limitations, targeting a very small number of exceptional scholars, and other programs are lesser known, and likely also targeting special interests.

A broad program of cooperation and educational scholarship between Morocco and the United States does not exist. There may be international educational conferences where teachers from both countries may participate among others, but that is a far cry from having a strong bilateral commitment to exploring and understanding the opportunities and challenges present in each country. There is no substitute for personal and group visits, tours of schools, understanding of the environment and curriculum, as well as wider social context and obstacles in the environment, families, and backgrounds of students – as well as the missteps and success stories along the way. Importantly, however, the model of education should be encouraging marketable skills, thorough grasp of material, and higher standards that motivate and inspire students to ask more of themselves and to become more competitive not just in terms of the expected disciplines, but in terms of breaking out of the social limitations and developing themselves widely and deeply.

Coding, for instance, is becoming an increasingly popular skill to teach in schools rather than universities, as it is seen as providing a variety of opportunities along college, not just as a university major. But scientific exploration is yet another undervalued range of possibilities. The United States has developed an interesting option which allows senior level (high school) students to take a variety of college-level courses along side their curriculum, in order to further develop skills, save money and time in college, or focus on more advanced work once they enter the universities. Perhaps partnerships with universities may be another way out for students struggling with failing government school models, while the issue of private school affordability is being resolved. Increasingly, much of the educational curriculum from universities is being taught online. Perhaps the future of education, both in Morocco and the United States, lies not in the overcrowded classrooms with ill-prepared teachers reciting rigid material, but an interactive network of virtual classes from around the world, where truly talented professionals bring education to a far wider range of students, while students break barriers by meeting their peers from abroad as they learn.

There is no shortage of opportunities for developing strong partnerships, finding creative solutions, and avoiding the seemingly never-ending problems of costs and bureaucratic ineptitude.  Hopefully, in the coming years, talented, innovation-oriented professionals in Morocco and the United States, will expand their horizons, enter each others’ worlds, and take first steps towards overcoming the unnecessary social abyss that keeps so many hardworking and deserving students from reaching their full potential.

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