“Expected,” “outrageous” and “shocking.” These were the words used by Moroccans to describe a bleak report published by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC) on education in the North African country.
The 2016 report, released just as the new school year began, outlined structural deficiencies in Morocco’s public education system and said they have become more acute.
“The phenomenon of overcrowded classes within schools, both in primary and secondary levels, is worsening,” said the report.
“This state of the situation is hindering learning and academic achievement and does not achieve the ultimate goal, namely of quality education,” it added.
The council, headed by Nizar Baraka, highlighted the lack of trained teachers. Last year, a spike in retirements forced the government to recruit contracted staff as an emergency solution. This last-minute recruitment had a negative impact on the quality of education due to insufficient training, the report said.
“In advanced countries, the duration of teacher training varies from 3 and 6 years depending on the level of classes to be taught,” the ESEC said.
Columnist Majda El Krami, who has written often about education in Morocco for local publications, told The Arab Weekly that the latest ESEC report is quite realistic and effectively raises the problems and shortcomings of the Moroccan education system.
“The portrait drawn by Mr Baraka’s team unfortunately corresponds to the reality of what public education has become — and is becoming — and proposes praiseworthy solutions but [ones that are] perhaps difficult to adopt in the near future,” said Krami.
The ESEC believes that the education system’s failings are very costly as the number of school dropouts, which it estimates at 350,000 per year, translates to a loss of almost 10% of the national education budget, a staggering 9 billion dirhams ($900 million) per year. This includes the costs of school dropouts and grade repeats.
Bouazza Bakir, a former French language inspector for public secondary schools, said the report has some truth in it.
“One of the main problems in public education comes from teachers themselves,” Bakir said. “The majority of them lack motivation and seriousness.”
“Unfortunately, there is laxness among teachers in public education that needs to be tackled head on,” he added.
Mohamed Madad, a medical English teacher at the University of Casablanca’s Faculty of Medicine, disagreed.
“How could a teacher be motivated in remote areas when he is teaching three classes in one, when the working conditions are not there?” asked Madad.
Krami warned of dire consequences if these problems are not dealt with efficiently.
The gap between public and private schools in major cities is growing. As mistrust of the public education system grows, private and foreign schools are expanding faster. Many middle-class and even working-class families are placing their children in private schools because they think they are left with no choice.
Saad Alami, a 49-year-old businessman, said he can’t afford to jeopardise his 15-year-old daughter’s future by putting her in a public school.
“There are many reasons that pushed me to opt for a French mission in Casablanca. The curriculum is rich, the quality reflects the high cost and the rate of success is guaranteed,” said Alami.
“In public schools, the classes are overcrowded, teachers do not give 100% of their efforts and their absenteeism rate is high besides the lack of modern technologies and libraries that are vital to students’ learning process,” he added.
Mustafa, a hairdresser in a popular neighbourhood in the old medina, said he had to work harder to provide for his 13-year-old son’s education in a private school.
“Up to the 1980s, private education was for those who failed in public schools. Now the situation has turned upside down, and private education has become a money-making machine that is sucking many people’s blood,” said Mustafa.
On September 11, Mohamed Hassad, minister of national education, vocational training, higher education and scientific research, laid out a number of measures aimed at improving the public education system during the 2017- 2018 school year.
Among the measures were plans to increase the education workforce, reduce the number of students in classrooms and add French to the curriculum of first-year primary students.
Krami said Hassad has displayed a firm desire to change things around, but that the unconditional support of all actors in the education system would be required for the reforms to succeed.
“This total involvement will not happen overnight and will require a lot of work, sacrifices and concessions,” she said. “The challenge today is to take it all back to square one and propose effective solutions that are more in tune with the reality of Morocco.”