The pandemic revealed structural issues within the educational system that have always existed.
Rabat — The education sector in Morocco is, as elsewhere in the world, among those most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Nearly 1.6 billion students in 190 countries experienced the direct effect of schools and learning spaces closing down.
Morocco’s state-mandated school closures as part of its health precautions to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus drew much attention to the education sector and its structural problems.
Structural issues always existed in Morocco’s education system and simply made it harder for students and teachers of all academic levels to adapt to unprecedented methods of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 lockdown. After the current academic year began, the struggle continued as everyone tried to re-adapt and catch up on lost time.
Before the health crisis, Morocco struggled to stay on the right path towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, set by the UN: Quality Education for All.
In 2019, 66% of Moroccan children aged 10 were unable to read and understand a simple test, which is 2.5 points lower than the regional average for the Middle East and North Africa and 10.7 points lower than the average for lower-middle-income countries. The response to the pandemic continues to pose a threat to Morocco’s progress towards achieving the goals of its strategic plan.
After its independence, Morocco inherited a weak education system that the French had installed. In 1956, 82% of adults were illiterate and 1.5 million children were out of school. Since then, Morocco has put in place multiple strategies to develop its education sector. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the focus was on accessibility.
In 1999, the Ministry of Education created the National Charter for Education and Training with the goal of achieving a major and complete education reform by 2020.
At the core of this plan was improving the quality of education. Some results, such as increased enrollment rates, proved a substantial success of the plan. But the high numbers of dropouts, unemployed graduates, and the unchanged low quality of education undermined this tenuous progress.
The most recent example of the government’s efforts was the 2019 adaptation of law 51.17 concerning the improvement of the curricula. The law came to change the language of instruction of scientific subjects for high school students from Arabic to French. Despite criticism from teachers, students, and parents, Morocco implemented the decision.
Ineffective decision making: Top-down approach
Policies of the government, and the Ministry of Education specifically, felt forced on many of the stakeholders affected by the spread of COVID-19 in Morocco. For example, when Said Amzazi, minister of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education, and Scientific Research, announced the possibility of attending classes in person, 80% of parents decided to send their kids back to school.
This decision, although many preferred it, did not take into account that some schools are small in size and have a limited number of classrooms making it hard, if not impossible, to respect health protocols.
Keeping children safe proved to be a real challenge: It was difficult to explain the precautionary measures to them.
Policymakers, ministers, and other decision-makers estimated the benefits of allowing children to go back to school but failed to take into account the feasibility and safety of implementing this policy. This left teachers, students, and parents unsure of what to do.
“I have two kids. I understand the struggle of providing each of them with a smartphone or a computer to attend their classes,” Hasnae Bati, a middle school teacher in Khemisset, said. “I can tell you that the situation for families who have four or five children was worse than anything you can imagine,” she added.
As a solution, schools made the executive decision to hold hybrid classes. One student Morocco World News interviewed only had face-to-face classes three days a week. Although they are supposed to hold online classes for the remaining two days, the teachers at the student’s school are usually busy with other face-to-face classes.
“It was really hard to prepare two versions of the same lesson. It already takes a long time to prepare for a face-to-face one,” Amina Zaza, a high school teacher in Rabat, told MWN.
She shared her experience with teaching online. She had lacked the knowledge necessary to write an email or send a picture. This became a difficult challenge because, in a time of online learning, she had no choice but to learn quickly. However, she received very little support. Eventually, she had to buy a new laptop by her own means and learned how to type her lessons and send them to her students.
This may not have been the case for everyone who struggled with technology. Interviewees mentioned that Morocco’s Ministry of Education was thinking of introducing Microsoft Teams before the COVID-19 pandemic. School administrators in fact had told teachers that schools would use a software as an additional tool to improve the teaching process.
The teachers, however, received no further instructions or training. When the pandemic happened “suddenly,” they were not prepared to use the platform.
This kind of issue clearly did not come into consideration in the process of policymaking. Centralized decision-making often provides solutions that are unfit for the problem and/or very hard to implement effectively.
Most of the complaints by both teachers and students have to do with the lack of communication and the communication channels they used.
Teachers were aware they had a program to follow but were unsure of how they would do so. They were sometimes under the impression they were “free” to teach however they wanted and other times, felt their school administrations and the ministry had abandoned them. This pushed teachers to make decisions individually, which created confusion among students who suddenly found themselves attending some classes on Facebook and others on WhatsApp.
The stories and experiences of students and teachers extend well beyond those mentioned above. Some students had to deal with a complete lack of responsiveness. This was the case for two interviewees whose teacher proceeded to block their students on WhatsApp and stop answering phone calls and messages after a couple of weeks of online learning.
One teacher mentioned how 20 out of 25 students were unable to attend online classes after the first few weeks. The reason was that their parents could not afford to pay for mobile data, which was up to MAD 20 ($2.23) per day.
“I was not going to expect my students to be present and have the necessary material to learn, when I know they could barely afford rent during the lockdown because their parents were out of work. It would be unfair,” Hasnae Bati told us.
Analyzing policymaking in times of crisis helps us understand the process of policymaking under regular circumstances. While the COVID-19 pandemic challenged Morocco’s education sector to respond rapidly, it also brought to the surface the structural problems and its lack of ability to adapt to change.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, students were unable to attain a homogenous and concise teaching strategy from their teachers. Teachers, as implementers of state policies, received ambiguous and inconsistent orders from their school administration. Administrators, likewise, received unclear and insufficient information from the Ministry of Education.
This shows that policy implementation was disrupted because the top-down communication process was ineffective.
How do we build resilience?
In times of crisis and shock, such as COVID-19, when systems become more fragile, the need for policies that are adapted to the issues at stake becomes more crucial.
In the case of education, resilience requires strong coordination between different stakeholders to foster efficient communication. While policymaking is important, communicating effectively has proven an important pillar of successful policy implementation.
The Ministry of Education in particular and the Moroccan government in general have created and implemented numerous policies to deal with the structural issues of the education sector. Despite efforts to implement policies that could solve the issues, the improvement is barely noticeable. A link becomes apparent between the inefficiency of policy implementation and the lack of implementer’s involvement in policymaking.
Many acknowledge that teachers are the source of expertise needed for policy implementation. Considering them as a source of expertise in the decision-making process would guarantee the creation of a more resilient education system.
The only way to solve these issues appears to be including those who have been marginalized in decision-making thus far, those whose voices have not mattered for a long time, and those whose lives have been deeply affected by the decisions made for them. What is in store for Morocco’s education system as the country emerges from the COVID-19 crisis is yet to be seen.