EDUCATING THE MASSES

Morocco 2020/21 | EDUCATION | FOCUS

Morocco's education sector has long been its Pandora's box.

EDUCATION HAS LONG BEEN A SORE SPOT for the Moroccan government, with much money spent with little to no payoff. While government reform over the past decade has increased school attendance, especially in regard to female students, there is still much work to be done for the system to produce a more equally educated society.

With only 50% of Moroccan children aged 4-5 attending preschool in 2017, children usually begin compulsory education at seven and have 12 years of combined primary and secondary schooling. While previously students took a national test to enter universities, students now rely on grades in the final year of secondary school to guarantee their entrance. In primary and secondary public schools, the language taught is formal Arabic, while at university level all courses are generally taught in French, leaving those who may not be fluent in either language behind. Meanwhile, private schools are taught in Arabic, French, English, and Spanish. As in many countries, private schools in Morocco often have a leg up on public schools, especially in terms of university attendees and graduates. And while it would be easy to simply point to the disparities between private and public schools as the cause for Morocco's education problem, many private schools face the same problem as their public counterparts: lack of competence, crisis of qualified personnel, and lack of pedagogical material.

According to the OECD, differences between public and private school performance in students is more the result of a student's socioeconomic standing and the degree of autonomy granted to schools in terms of decision-making and management. One major area of concern is school dropouts. A 2019 article from Morocco World News quotes World Bank Magreb Country Director Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly as saying only 53% of middle school students continue onto high school, while less than 15% of firstgrade students are likely to graduate from high school. These low numbers may partly be explained by the school environment. According to a 2018 OECD PISA report, 44% of students reported being bullied multiple times per month, compared to the OECD average of 23%. Children who experience bullying have a much greater likelihood of dropping out and skipping school, another area in which Morocco suffers. According to the same report, 44% of students reported skipping at least one day of school. The quality of education or lack thereof is evident in the 2018 PISA results, with Moroccan students averaging scores of 359, 358, and 377 in the reading, math, and science sections, respectively. The OECD average is 487, 489, and 489, respectively.

What makes Morocco's education problem an enigma is that the sector receives a good amount of government funds: 25.6% of the 2019 state budget was spent on the education sector. A large part of the bill was due to public wages and pensions, which took up 49% of the public wage bill in 2016. However, the government has tried to reduce these costs by hiring “contracted" teachers through regional institutions called Regional Academies for Education and Training (AREFs). While this new system offers more local employment in rural areas, it does not provide the same security as a public-sector job. Contracted teachers reported feeling worried about regional bodies' long-term financial viability and low pensions, and 2019 saw them hold month-long protests seeking more beneficial contracts. Still, it is not all doom and gloom for the sector. Thanks to rigorous government initiatives, the number of students enrolled in primary school education has increased enormously, numbered at 4.322 million, according to UNESCO 2018 statistics. Meanwhile, the number of those enrolled in tertiary education grew from 877,404 in 2015 to 1.056 million in 2018. Currently, the number of children enrolled in early childhood education development programs stands at 6,032, a number that will hopefully increase with the World Bank's USD500-million program to support Morocco's 2015-2030 Education Reform. The World Bank program seeks to increase the quality of early childhood education and support teaching practices in primary and secondary education, while increasing accountability through the education supply chain, a step in the right direction. OECD cites more efficient and transparency in resource and financial management, greater involvement of civil society, and monitoring school performance as key to increasing a country's education quality.