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Moroccan MPs Approve Controversial Bill to Bolster French Language in Education

The vast majority of MPs at the House of Representatives approved the bill despite recent backlash.

Rabat – Morocco’s Minister of Education Said Amzazi is undoubtedly proud of the recent developments regarding the proposed education bill, Law 51.17. The law stipulates the use of French as a language of instruction for scientific and technical subjects in Moroccan schools.

On Monday evening, the House of Representatives passed the draft law with 241 MPs voting in favor. Only four members from different political parties voted against.

Omar Balafrej and Mustapha Chennaoui, members of the Federation of Democratic Left (FGD) were among the four MPs who voted against the law.

From the PJD, two members voted against the bill: Mohamed El Othmani and El Mokrie Abouzayd El Idrissi.  

Twenty-one members from the Al Istiqlal  (Independence) Party abstained.

The law is expected to come into effect after approval at the House of Councillors.

The adoption of the law came a week after the Moroccan parliamentary commission for teaching, culture, and communication approved the framework law.

In addition to the implementation of foreign languages in technical and scientific classes, the law also requires Tamazight to be taught in all Moroccan schools.

Read also: Moroccan Parliament Passes Bill Integrating Tamazight in Public Life

Article 2 of the draft law received 144 votes in favor and two against. One-hundred-eighteen members abstained.

Article 2 of the draft law stipulates that it will “be carried out through teaching some subjects, in particular, scientific or technical subjects, or chapters of certain subjects in one or more foreign languages.”

Article 31 of the bill received 144 votes in favor and 2 against. About 116 members abstained.

Article 31 relates to teaching Tamazight in school. It states that “upon completing high school, students should have mastered both Arabic and Tamazight in addition to two foreign languages.”

The dominance of French as a foreign language in Morocco has angered some political parties, especially the PJD and Al Istiqlal.

Strong opposition

PJD member and former Head of Government Abdelilah Benkirane has long believed that the law is against the Moroccan constitution and the official language in Morocco: Arabic.

While the law stipulates that Arabic remains the official language of the state, Benkirane insists that the law violates the status of Arabic. Benkirane also believe that the French language is an “unknown” language to Moroccan students.

Read also: Ministry of Education on Alert as Controversy over Darija Continues

He also forecasts a failure in the education system as the language might be a burden for some students at scientific and technical classes.

This is not the first time when Benkirane strongly condemned the proposal of Amzazi.

In March, Benkirane said that “there is no evidence that teaching science in Arabic has caused the failure of the education system,” he said.

Benkirane also preferred English as a language to teach science over French. “If [higher] education in a foreign language is necessary one day, there is a better language for it than French,” he said.

On Saturday, July 20, Chairman of the PJD at the House of Representatives Idriss Al Azami Idrissi submitted his resignation letter to the ruling party. Local media speculated that Al Azami’s move is due to the adoption of the new framework law for education by the parliamentary commission for education.

In addition to Al Istiqlal Party and Benkirane, the National Coalition for the Arabic Language strongly opposed the draft framework.

According to the coalition, the bill is a crime against the Moroccan constitution.

The head of the coalition, Fouad Bou Ali, said in April that excluding the Arabic language from Moroccan schools will “reap failures and setbacks experienced by the public school.”

While Morocco is shifting into more French, Algeria is now evaluating the idea of replacing French with English in universities.

Algerian Minister of High Education Tayeb Bouzid ordered all heads of university institutions on July 21 to replace French with the English language. Observe Algerie reported that the “French language is gradually banned from universities’ administration.”

The news outlet added that the French language is “less and less used in the management of universities.”

Despite the controversy, Amzazi said that the approval of the legal framework was a “historic moment.”

It is the first time that the education sector will have its own legal framework, which is a first step towards the Moroccan education system “taking off,” Amzazi told MAP after the adoption of the bill by the parliamentary education commission last week.

Many experienced teachers in Morocco may find it difficult to adapt to teaching scientific and technical subjects in French. Historically, Moroccan teachers have taught sciences in standard Arabic. It remains to be seen whether teachers will receive any specific training to meet the new standards.