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Morocco: Education Under Bloggers’ Scrutiny

High rates of illiteracy are often presented as a proof of what many observers describe as an archaic and unfair public education system that, 50 years after independence, failed to live up to the expectations of many Moroccans.

Torn between insistent calls for modernization and a powerful conservative drive; caught in an excruciating debate over which languages to include in its programs; overburdened by an opaque and centralized administration, the Moroccan education system has long been the target of passionate critiques, not least among bloggers.

Mohamed [Ar], who's a university student, laments about a methodology based primarily on blind, unquestionable memorization that seems to prevail throughout the official curricula. He writes:

لا يهم أن نفهم ما نحفظ أو أن نحاول فهمه، فقط إحفظ، ثم أتل ما حفظت، ودع الفهم لذوي العقول الراجحة..
لم يكن يفرقنا عن الببغاوات الرمادية الكثير: تلقي مجموعة أسطر وفقرات، نحفظها عن قلب ظهر أو عن ظهر قلب فلا يهم، الأهم أن نستعرض ما حفظناه يوم الرعب: وعند الإمتحان يذل الحافظ أو يهان..
بدأت تتكشف لي معالم الجامعة، تجارب نحفظها لنتظاهر بتطبيقها في المختبرات، أو لنقل شبه مختبرات تحريا للصدق. طُلب من أستاذ نتيجة تجربة فأجاب، سُئل لماذا هذه القيمة بالضبط؟ قال إنها القيمة التي حصل عليها فوج السنة الماضية! حتى الأساتذة يحفظون النتائج كما أنزلت ولله الحمد..
It doesn't matter if we understand what we are trying to learn by heart. Just retain, and then recite. Leave understanding for the wise minded…
We weren't so different from gray parrots: we were given lines and paragraphs and asked to memorize them. The most important was the ability to parrot them when comes the day of horror: the day of examination, when you're at best embarrassed, at worst humiliated…
The reality of the university started to unfold in front of me. We pretended to conduct experiments designed by others, in so-called laboratories. We asked the professor to explain the result of the experiment and the mystery behind this or that value. His answer: Ask last year's graduates! Even school teachers learn the results merely by heart. Praise be to God (sarcastic).

Beside damning rates of illiteracy, figures suggest that high numbers of children are unable to access schools, whilst others abandon education at an early age, as Ammar al-Khalfi [Ar], writing on Nebrass E'shabab, argues. He writes:

إن السبب المساهم في الهدر المدرسي إن لم نقل السبب الرئيسي هو تدني مستوى التعليم العمومي، فحسب الدراسات وحسب تجربتي الشخصية فإن علاقة
الطفل المغربي بالمدرسة أصبحت علاقة نفور، إذ تلاشى الرابط بين التلاميذ ومدرسيهم بسبب العنف والتهميش.
كما تعاني المدرسة المغربية من نقص في التجهيز التربوي وندرة في الأنشطة غير التعليمية، وضعف في تكوين المدرسين لمواجهة حاجات الأطفال ومشاكلهم. وتطول لائحة الأسباب الخارجية المنفرة للأطفال من المدرسة، كالتفكك الأسري، وأمية الآباء والأمهات، وتأثير الشارع، والمخدرات والبطالة، والرغبة في الهجرة إلى الغرب.

One of the reasons behind dropping out of school, if not the main reason, is the decreasing [quality] level of public education. Studies have shown, and my personal experience tells me, that children have grown more averse to school: violence and marginalization have made their once solid ties with their teachers, weaken.
Moroccan schools also suffer from a lack of equipment, the scarcity of non-educational activities, and the weakness in the teachers’ training, failing to meet the needs of children and their problems. Numerous external causes explain the repugnancy of the children toward their school, like broken homes, illiterate parents, or the impact of the street, drugs, unemployment, and the desire to emigrate to the West.

The overall budget allocated to education on a yearly basis remains poor. This materializes more blatantly when one looks at the dilapidating infrastructure of some schools. Abderrazak E'ttabi [Ar], blogging on ‘Akrab al-Net reports on the case of a collapsing public school in Ksar al-Kabir. He writes:

الذي سيرى الصور من الوهلة الأولى قد يعتقد أنها صور التقطت من قلب مدينة تعرضت لهزت أرضية أو قصف جوي و موجة من أمواج تسونامي المدمرة ، لكن الواقع و الحقيقة أن الصور الملتقطة هي لمدرسة لم يمضي على افتتاحها سوى سنوات قليلة بمدينة القصر الكبير ، و بالضبط بالحزام الهامشي للمدينة ، تصدعات و شقوق تؤدن بانهيار وشيك قد يتسبب في كارثة كبرى يكون ضحيتها في المقام الأول أطفال أبرياء.
At first glance, those pictures look as if they were taken from the epicenter of a city rocked by an earthquake, or hit by aerial bombardment, or a wave of a devastating tsunami. The bitter reality is that the images were shot at a recently inaugurated public school, in the outskirts of the city of Ksar al-Kabir (in northern Morocco). Cracks and fractures are threatening to cause an imminent collapse, which could cost the lives of innocent children.

The author publishes those pictures taken by a teacher at the school:

School in Ksar al-Kabir
School in Ksar al-Kabir

The broader issue of language often appears as a major concern. French is held as the medium for higher education in a country where most people speak vernacular Arabic. Although Berber languages (or Tamazight) have recently been incorporated into the official curricula, some like Ibrahim Murabit [Ar], blogging on Nebrass E'shabab, think it is too little too late. He writes:

وإذا كان معلوما أن كل حضارة تقاس قوتها بمدى انتشار لغتها وثقافتها، والأمر عندنا في المغرب أكثر وضوحا عندما نشاهد الصراع الثقافي المحموم بين المراكز الثقافية الفرنسية والاسبانية والانجليزية، لنشر ثقافتها ولغتها بمقابل رمزي أو مجاني في أحيان كثيرة. فما بالنا نتنكر لأنفسنا ونحقد على تراثنا وثقافتنا، خصوصا إذا تعلق الأمر بأمازيغية المغرب وثقافته وتاريخه؟

Each civilization is measured by the extent and influence of its language and culture. Here in Morocco, we have been witnessing a heated struggle for influence between French, Spanish and English cultural centers, to disseminate their culture and languages, offering their services for symbolic fees; or mostly for free. Why are we self-loathing our culture, history and languages, especially Tamazight, and holding them in contempt?

Mirroring the Moroccan society, conservative and progressive groups often try to fill in the cultural vacuum within universities, animating debates and arranging meetings and lectures. This doesn't always happen without clashes. From Tangiers, Vamprita [Ar] recounts the story of a meeting she succeeded in organizing with fellow undergraduates, inviting some prominent Moroccan comedians. What looked like a successful gathering, soon turned into chaos by some angry conservative students:

كانت الأمور تجري على ألف ما يرام ، فقد جهزنا ما أمكننا لاستقبال الضيوف ، و قام كل مسؤول فينا بتقديم ناديه ، ثم توجهنا لقاعة جهزناها خصيصا لهذه المناسبة حيث جلسنا في حوار مفتوح تدخل فيه كل الطلبة الراغبين بذلك
إلى أن خرب الجلسة أعضاء من الاتحاد الوطني لطلبة المغرب ، من الفصيل القاعدي ، وهجموا على القاعة بكل همجية ووحشية ووقاحة ، وقاطعوا الجلسة بطريقة فوضوية محتجين لماذا لم يتم اخبارهم بهذا النشاط وأي نشاط يجب أن يتم بعلمهم ، و قالوا بأن أنشطتنا كلها هي مضيعة للوقت في ظل مشاكل أهم تعاني منها الجامعة

Things were going very well. We were able to settle every detail before receiving our guests, each of us being responsible for introducing his own group. Then we went to the hall, specially refurbished for the occasion, and started an open dialog where all students could intervene.
All was ruined when some members of a radical faction of the National Union of the Students of Morocco (UNEM), entered the hall and started brutally and shamelessly calling for the meeting to be boycotted and canceled. They pretended they were protesting the fact no one gave them notice of the event and that any activity must be done with their knowledge. They said all our activities were a waste of time considering the problems faced by the University.

Despite successive and ambitious “make-believe” reforms, bloggers seem to echo a wider popular sentiment of the fiasco of a public education system that fails to deliver, leaving the way for a prosperous and lucrative private school system, spread across urban centers and inaccessible to a wide range of the population.

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