Rabat - Heated disagreements accompanied the new school-year start as Arabic dialect terms appeared in the official 2nd grade textbooks, reigniting controversy over the ailing education system.
Rabat – Heated disagreements accompanied the new school-year start as Arabic dialect terms appeared in the official 2nd grade textbooks, reigniting controversy over the ailing education system.
The Moroccan education system has been relentlessly striving for reform and empowerment since the closing decades of the last century. Today, the intellectual and the layman all know the troubles of the public school and the corruption crippling the colossal system of education and training.
The organization of schools and vocational institutes, colleges, universities, and training bodies with both private and public ownerships under the control and supervision of delegations, academies, and councils is very complicated. They belong to either joint or independent ministries, making the education sector a complex fabric to figure out.
Added to this is the constant change of high-ranking education officials, which automatically yields inconsistent and incongruent policies of education. The gloomy picture gets darker as corruption finds safe shelter and spreads like a contagious plague in an already critical state of affairs.
The imperfections of Moroccan public education are many and varied. Yet, the question of language remains unaddressed seriously and unsettled over the reform attempts and the occasional policies. Language variation, supposedly an asset to any nation and source of pride and diversity, has become a blight on the path to re-innovating the system.
Interestingly, however, after the serious argument over whether Arabic or French should take over as a means of instruction, another controversy surfaced due to the boom of the English language worldwide. Some contended that English is undeniably the best medium of instruction and must be the first foreign language of any country.
Moroccan debate over the past years has rested on whether French or English should be the channel of instruction in public schools and universities of the nation, as is the case in many private institutes. In this tense rivalry between powerful languages, a notorious voice appeared advocating for the integration of Darija (Moroccan Arabic), an unwritten dialect, in education.
While most Moroccans overlooked the idea with sarcasm and underestimation in its early beginnings, the newly updated curricula for 2018 first primary school years have included Darija words with illustrative pictures in the midst of Arabic lessons.
The words were written and pronounced as if they are common Arabic terms. The pictures and words of food items from Moroccan cuisine caused, first, surprise, before it grew, like a snow ball, into public outcry and indignation on social media.
The “virtual” discontent was further provoked by more fabricated pictures and texts alluding to social degeneration and disrespect of Morocco’s cultural identity. One example included a girl taking off her pants to urinate in the open air; another had a boy and a girl initiate a relationship. The fake images and texts were later identified.
Some social media users not only blamed the public for blind consumption and baseless accusations of the Ministry of Education, but also supported the insertion of such words in textbooks, claiming that Arabic is not a sacred language.
Despite the linguistic diversity in Morocco, in education at least, Darija has never been mentioned to be used or empowered in all the preceding official reform plans.
Neither the National Charter for Education and Training nor the Emergency Plan nor, lately, the Strategic Vision 2015-2030 have endorsed any promotion of Darija, while all the main languages have been maintained with differing degrees and variable importance.
Over the last years, the only tense debate following the monarch’s 2014 discourse on language-in-education review took place in the Higher Council for Education Training and Scientific Research (HCETSR) on whether French or English should be the first foreign language and medium of instruction in secondary and tertiary education’s scientific and technical streams.
While some saw a probable radical shift to English, French has been announced to continue to be the medium of teaching in the advanced schooling phases. While many voices and bodies denounced the gradually eclipsing role of standard Arabic in schools, Darija was not even deemed worthy of discussion.
Yet, subtle efforts for the promotion of dialects in educational use started decades ago in the era of foreign occupation, not only in Morocco, but in many comparable Arab and Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria.
It was primarily meant to undermine the Arabic language: the indispensable tool of Muslims’ religious practice as well as a symbol of historical and cultural unity and identity among Arabs and Muslims.
Recently, the wave in Morocco advocating for Darija has been revived and is being fueled by notorious activist and businessman Noureddine Ayouch. He is a member in the HCETSR, a priceless opportunity for him to influence educational decisions of momentous eventual impact on education. Yet, claims that Ayouch is behind the insertion of dialect terms in the new curricula remain only plausible allegations.
For academics and intellectuals, such as El Ouadghiri and El Aroui, the issue is unquestionable and Darija is not liable to fulfill education or scholastic roles, not only due to its nature, but also because the other languages, especially Arabic, being the prime tool of instruction in primary school, are far more adequate and useful.
Irrespective of the issue in question, the hustle and bustle which took place on social media reveals insightful indicators on the fabric and the mode of thinking of the Moroccan society. Lack of respect for opposing views, lack of critical thinking, and poor media savvy have imbued Facebook interaction in the opening weeks of September 2018.
Mutual accusations among members of society, circulation of fake posts without ascertaining credibility, and imprudence to react were common traits among numberless Facebook users. This status quo prevented readers from finding objective and rational analyses and caused considerable doubt.
The controversy, again, brought to debate the duality of public and private schooling in Morocco.
Most of the discussion implied an endorsement of private schooling as a redemption for the masses, without regard to the degrading purchasing power of Moroccan households and the escalating private school fees. Quality teaching in private schools is not only becoming more and more unquestioned, but also unthinkably approved and recommended by the educated as well as the layman.
Today’s poor public education, coupled with greedy private schools and thoughtless households sacrificing their basic needs for their children’s private schooling, renders the image dramatic and does not give any signs of an auspicious future. Citizens are becoming defenseless victims of inadequate education modes as well as their shallow thinking and irrational decisions.
All the noise Darija caused is only a small aspect of education. Real education should overcome the imperfections of available offers to provide in-home education and parental scaffolding that seeks to make children into intellectuals, decision-makers, leaders, and, mainly, thinkers.
These skills cannot necessarily be built by any school irrespective of reputation or service, but only require educated wise parents who look farther than a few “strange” words in their child’s school book.