Morocco's education system is bracing for major changes this school year. Education reform has long been at the forefront of the agenda for the North African nation, and will play a key role in the country's 2015-2020 strategic vision.
In August, the Kingdom's parliament passed a bill aimed at revamping the country's entire primary education system, with its advocates saying it will promote socio-economic equality and social inclusiveness.
The bill focuses on closing the country's education gap and developing a new generation of Moroccans, equipped with the diplomatic and scientific skills needed for Morocco to play a bigger role on the international stage.
The passage of the bill was met with some criticism, mostly from the country's conservative circles, which see the bill's mandatory implementation of French as the language of instruction for scientific classes as an attack on Moroccan culture.
While for some Moroccans, the presence of French within all levels of the country's education system is bothersome, it remains highly prevalent, and is the language of instruction in most universities in Morocco.
Morocco has just over 20 public and private universities. Public universities are free with the exception of Al Akhawayn University in Fez and the International University of Rabat.
Arabic, French, and English are the languages of instruction in universities, although French is nearly ubiquitous, which is why many pushed for the passage of the education reform bill, placing greater emphasis on French language throughout primary and secondary school.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin, located in Fez, has been recognized by UNESCO as the oldest continuously operating university in the world, established in 859.
Morocco is also home to more than 25 music conservatories, among other specialist schools supported by the Ministry of Culture.
Education is free and compulsory in Morocco for nine years, from age seven to 16. Total enrollment for primary school surpasses 100%, but levels fall as the education level increases. Enrolment for secondary education totaled just under 80% in 2017, and the number for tertiary dropped all the way to 33.8%.
Most public primary and secondary schools teach in Arabic. The country sees such a low number in tertiary enrollment partly because students are not adequately prepared to continue their higher education in French. Universities across the country also see high dropout rates.
Many advocates for the education reform bill point to the dominance of French in business and government.
Students from families with enough money to afford private French lessons are given a distinct advantage over those who cannot, which constitute the majority of Moroccans.
Proponents hope that with a greater number and diversity of students entering university with strong backgrounds in French, not only will tertiary education rates increase, but the economy will see a significant and much needed boost.
Nearly one in four young people are unemployed in Morocco.
According to the most recent data, Morocco spends approximately 5.26% of GDP on education, which is just above 17% of total government expenditures. This is considerably higher than the world average, and higher still than some of the top performing countries in education, like Finland and Singapore.
Despite this, Moroccan students score lower on international tests than other students.
The reform of education in the country will also require a change in curriculum.
The government's national strategy ultimately aims to improve education as a means of boosting and updating the economy.
The Moroccan job market, as it stands, is not large enough to accommodate the already relatively low percentage of university graduates. According to Reuters, some 280,000 students graduated from Moroccan universities and entered the job market in 2018, but the economy only succeeded in creating 112,000 new jobs.
Observing the Moroccan education system over the coming year should offer hints at how the situation can be improved.