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El Othmani: Darija Cannot Be Used in Education

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Rabat – The head of government has finally reacted to the controversy over the use of Darija (Moroccan Arabic) in primary education school books.

Saad Eddine El Othmani said on Sunday that Darija cannot be used in education “because first, the official languages recognized by the Constitution are Arabic and Tamazight.”

The official stressed also that the law that governs “this operation and which is examined in the parliament, insisted on the obligation of the use of the language in question, without any other, and this to prevent the use of the dialect.”

On Wednesday, September 5, as children across the country began the school year, citizens heavily criticized the government and the Ministry of Education for including Darija, an unwritten dialect of Arabic, in textbooks.

School books included words in Darija, including the words “baghrir” (Moroccan crepe) and “briouat” (a salty or sweet puff pastry).

“We can not admit expressions, sentences or paragraphs in Moroccan dialect in textbooks,” El Othmani told Maghreb Arab Press (MAP).

The official described the decision to exclude Darija was an “irreversible” decision.

A source from the Ministry of Communication, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Morocco World News today that textbooks were not discussed in Parliament before they were released because an official committee takes care of the new textbooks.

The committee submitted a review of their consultation to the Ministry of Education.

The source added that the new school books could be modified, but, despite El Othmani’s statement, the government has supported the new school books so far.

The education minister also “strongly” defended the new school books, according to MWN’s source.

The use of Darija in textbooks sparked outrage, mockery, and confusion among parents and scholars.

In response to pictures of “fake” pages from school books, El Othmani  called on citizens to refrain from promoting and sharing fake contents. He said the pictures were taken of non-Moroccan books.

He added that such content leads to confusion, especially for parents and creates a state of negativity at a time when Morocco is in the process of reforming education and training.

After the release of school books for the start of the new school year, some pictures of textbook contents went viral. Some of the pictures reportedly did not represent actual school book content.

Some textbooks included some traditional Moroccan children’s songs in Darija, transliterated into Latin letters as well as written in Arabic characters.

Some Moroccan public figures welcomed the use of Darija in textbooks as the dialect represents Moroccan culture. However, several scholars slammed its use, calling the Ministry of Education’s defense “excuses.”

Moroccan sociologist Ali Chaabani told Morocco World News that the decision will cause confusion among students and society.

The professor said that Moroccan parents will be forced to send their children to foreign schools to provide their children with an “appropriate education.”

The president of the National Coalition for the Defense of the Arabic Language, Fouad Abou Ali, also condemned the decision.

Abou Ali told Morocco World News that Moroccan Arabic is a means to communicate, but cannot be a tool for education.

He explained that the Darija dialect varies across the country. For example, one textbook used the Darija word “baghrir” for a Moroccan crepe, a word that is not universal. Abou Ali said that not everyone calls it “baghrir,” giving eastern Morocco as an example, where people call the crepe “khringo.” Both Chaabani and Abou Ali called on the government to revise the decision.

On September 6, the ministry released a statement to explain the use of Darija in school books. The ministry argued that using Moroccan Arabic in school books is based on several pedagogical principles, including approaching students in their culture.

The ministry asserted that it is normal to use Moroccan words for items that define Moroccan culture, including “chribil” (traditional slippers) and “akika” (a family ceremony celebrating birth).

Government ready to give up on new school books

The head of government said that his cabinet is ready to meet the requests of citizens.

“We have no problem to give up these school books and ask the ministry to give up these school books” after a potential consultation with educators, linguists, commissions, and the Higher Council of Education, Training, and Scientific Research.

However, for El Othmani the issue does not form a “fundamental part” of the reform. He said not all school books included Darija. However, allowing Darija in some books does not signify leniency towards including the Moroccan dialect in textbooks and educational programs.

The head of government also said that he called on Minister of Education Said Amzazi to give more explanations to the public.

Morocco is a multicultural country with a number of spoken languages and dialects, including Tamazight (Berber) and Hassani, a Sahrawi language.  Will the new school books confuse students whose mother tongue is Hassani or Tamazight, not Darija? The Moroccan constitution only recognizes Tamazight and standard Arabic.

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