Rabat – The Moroccan Parliament has passed a controversial new bill to reform the education system. The new law has provoked a political crisis, due to a new language policy called “linguistic alternation,” the tricky shift to teaching scientific and technical courses in foreign languages instead of standard Arabic.
Further revelations about the bill’s contents show that French will indeed be used more in schools, but English, too, has gained ground in the kingdom’s schools.
Replacing standard Arabic in teaching scientific courses enraged many members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD), a conservative Islamic political party. The bill has even put the whole coalition government at stake.
The most prominent figure opposing the bill is former Prime Minister Abdelilllah Benkirane, who is still an influential element within the Islamist movement. Despite countless attempts, Benkirane has failed to convince the party to block the new legislation.
It is clear that the latest policy is a win for the economic and cultural dominance of French in Morocco, since most science courses are going to be taught in French. Conservatives are saying it is a threat to the Moroccan “Arabo-Islamic” identity.
But the question of the relevance of English within Morocco is still being debated.
As a matter of fact, the text of the bill raises the importance of “foreign languages” in teaching scientific and technical courses. Maybe other laws or executive orders will clarify more.
Yet, English is explicitly required, in this piece of legislation, as a mandatory course for vocational schools and universities. Additionally, there is room for university degrees taught entirely in English as professors and researchers are required to master English as essential element in their work.
The bill has put in place an optimistic goal that a student with a baccalaureate degree—the diploma that marks the completion of high school—should master standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber), as the two official languages, in addition to French and English.
The new law’s goal is clearly difficult to achieve, if taking into account the catastrophic situation of the education system.
The Moroccan higher council of education, a consultancy body which advises the government in matters related to education, published in 2007 a recommendation to reform the education system in terms of the language of instruction. “To opt for a mastered bilingualism; indeed, in the current situation of resources, it’s difficult, or impossible, for the Moroccan public education system to pretend a mastered multilingualism.”
So it is clear that the final decision to opt for multilingualism is a political one. There are several causes to note. First, Morocco is is a former French colony; French is widely spoken among educated people; and cultural ties are maintained by a large network of French cultural centers.
Second, France’s direct investment accounted for 28% of the foreign investments in Morocco in 2018. Third, France is a long term ally of Morocco with a special relationship in areas like security. These facts cannot be changed on short notice.
However, Morocco is looking to strengthen its position in the world and within Africa.
Looking for new markets and getting more jobs for the growing numbers of young graduates is an urgent matter for the country. Government officials are aware of the importance of having a workforce trained to communicate in English to enhance foreign investment and to expand the private sector in Anglophone African countries.
The latest government reshuffle in October 2019 is another example of how English is going to become more prominent, certainly at the level of higher education.
Driss Ouaouicha, the newly appointed minister of higher education and scientific research, has a PhD in linguistics from the University of Texas and studied teaching languages in the University of Wales in the UK.
Besides his many occupations, Ouaouicha holds the position of the secretary general of the Morocco-British society, an institution for cultural, academic, and economic exchange. He was also the president of Akhawayn University in Ifrane, which is basically an Anglophone university.
For the current situation of Morocco, there is no perfect choice in terms of language policy. In the short term, the education system is tied fast to the French language. But the country is heading slowly to giving preference to English.