Despite sparking outrage in conservative Morocco, Morocco’s education minister remains convinced that adopting French as an instruction language will benefit Moroccan society as a whole.
Rabat – Facing widespread controversy for a draft law seeking to replace Arabic with French as the language of instruction for scientific subjects in Moroccan schools, the country’s education minister has issued his strongest defense yet for using French.
More than a policy preference, Minister Said Amzazi argued, adopting French would allow Morocco to come to terms with its persisting problem with social inequality. At the same time, Amzazi predicts, as more Moroccan graduates master French, Morocco will become more competitive in the global knowledge market.
Amzazi’s defense of French came in a wide-ranging interview with Moroccan outlet Challenge.
Speaking about the motives behind Draft Law 51.17, the proposed “Frenchification” law, Amzazi said that shifting to French is necessary because it will help address the negative impact that three decades of Arabization have had on Morocco’s competitiveness in an era of relentless globalization.
“Ours is an era of globalization. So we have to either catch the train, or we don’t and then we exclude ourselves from the global dynamics,” Amzazi said. According to the minister, fluency in many languages, and French in particular, will also help open doors for Moroccan graduates.
In Amzazi’s assessment, the majority of job offers in the Moroccan labor market require fluency in foreign languages. The result is that only a restricted circle of students can get well-paid and status-enhancing job offers from the mostly French multinational companies operating in Morocco.
By continuing to learn scientific subjects in Arabic, Moroccan students will have “the scientific prerequisites,” but they would lack the “necessary soft skills” to function in a changing and globalizing workplace. “French is a precious asset on which we should capitalize at all costs if we want to promote our competitiveness at the global level.”
French required for social justice
But Amzazi is not exclusively interested in the economic aspect of his policy. From a social equality stance, he argued, Arabization created a feeling of national pride and equality without tackling the country’s socio-economic inequality.
“Teaching scientific subjects in foreign languages is an imperative for social justice,” Amzazi claimed.
According to the minister, Arabization brought about the internalization of inferiority by students who cannot communicate in French.
Arabization, he said, created two Moroccos separated by a socio-economic status often associated with fluency in French. According to Amzazi, even after three decades of Arabization, French has remained the most effective social capital for moving up the Moroccan social ladder.
Amzazi also pointed out that years of teaching in Arabic have created a “linguistic fracture” between Moroccan graduates of the immediate aftermath of the independence years and those of the post-Arabization period of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Because they were fluent in French and were taught to master other foreign languages, such as English and Spanish, Amzazi suggested, the first generations of Moroccan elites were equipped to navigate the world without feeling insecure. In addition to their scientific knowledge, they were linguistically prepared to excel nationally and globally.
“Ours is an education system that is devaluing scientific fields” by making them less attractive to students who do not master French, since Moroccan universities teach scientific subjects in French, and “creating in our students a genuine sense of linguistic insecurity.”
Amzazi cited official statistics: “During the first year at university, one out of four students drop out before the first term.”
According to the minister, the linguistic insecurity that most Moroccan students feel accounts for the high rate of college dropouts. Having studied the majority of their formative high school years in Arabic, they enter university unprepared.
Amzazi’s position, which many conservative Moroccans have already decried as elitist and a blow to national pride and identity, is set to raise eyebrows among politicians and commentators who see the minister’s policy move as a cultural surrender to France.
Abdelilah Benkirane, former chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD), has been the harshest critic of Amzazi and all circles calling for the adoption of French. According to Benkirane, switching to French will effeminate the honor and pride of Moroccanness.
The conservative politician sees faithfulness to Arabization as the final arbiter of Moroccan national pride, calling any prospective adoption of French a crime and a fatal blow to Moroccan values.
For all the trenchant criticism, however, Amzazi showed inflexible faith in the necessity of shifting to French to increase Morocco’s competitiveness globally.
“What exactly are we asking of our education system?” he asked. “Do we want to train our children in a vacuum in a model predefined for eternity and without regards for the changing world around, or do we rather want them to be equipped to be citizens of the world, capable of integrating themselves in competitive work settings, and having mastery over technological advances impacting all the fields?”