Morocco wants to upgrade its public students

Get Moroccan public schools out of the crisis in which they have been plunged for forty years

Morocco wants to upgrade its public students

Get Moroccan public schools out of the crisis in which they have been plunged for forty years. This is one of the flagship commitments of Aziz Akhannouch's government, whose roadmap aims to be a "break" with previous attempts at reform which have all failed. Since the accession to the throne of King Mohammed VI in 1999, education transformation plans have followed one another – national charter, emergency program, strategic vision, etc. – without any succeeding in resolving the structural problems, although widely documented, which emerged in the mid-1980s.

At the start of each school year, the press, which is alarmed by the “low level” of students, questions the “insufficient training” of teachers, points to a system accused of “maintaining inequalities”. Reproaches which do not only come from parents, education specialists or civil society in general. The observation also alarms the highest summit of the State. “Is the education our children receive today in public schools capable of guaranteeing their future? », Mohammed VI pretended to ask in his annual Throne Day speech in 2015.

The figures are cause for concern. Not an evaluation of Moroccan public schools fails to report a “learning crisis”. In 2019, less than a third of public students mastered the program at the end of primary school, barely 10% at the end of middle school. Languages ​​and mathematics, in particular, pose serious problems. In the fifth year of primary school, the equivalent of CM2 in France, in 2022 only 13% were able to carry out simple division, when only one in five students managed to read a text in Arabic fluently and one in three a text in French. On average, 300,000 children leave school each year before the end of compulsory education, set at 15 years old. Half during middle school and 20% due to exclusions linked to too many repeats.

“Traumatized” system

Conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the flagship PISA study – for Program for International Assessment of 15-year-old Students – hit the nail on the head in its 2023 ranking by placing the kingdom 79th in understanding in writing and 76th in science out of a total of 81 countries. A dizzying fall of nine places, in these two categories, in the space of five years.

Upon his appointment to the Ministry of Education in 2021, Chakib Benmoussa discovered a “traumatized” school system, testifies those around him. From May to July 2022, national consultations were carried out with “more than 100,000 stakeholders” in the sector. “Never before seen in this form,” assures Le Monde the minister, former Moroccan ambassador to France, who indicates having “capitalized” on the conclusions of the Commission on the Development Model (CSMD) which had been handed over to the king in 2021 the broad outlines of “inclusive” reforms to be carried out, mainly in the educational field.

Developed without the assistance of consulting firms, specify its architects, the education project is readily presented as the fruit of “field work”, “innovative” in its approach. A reform focused not on means, but on students. With the objective, in particular, of guaranteeing mastery of basic lessons. “This is the first time that we have succeeded in transforming educational practice in the classroom, while previous reforms stopped at the school threshold,” insists the team of Chakib Benmoussa, who surrounded himself with former collaborators of the CSMD, one of whom became his chief of staff.

“Extend Model”

To fill the gaps accumulated by schoolchildren, the system chosen is not inspired by a Western model, but by an Indian method, Teaching At the Right Level (TARL), developed by an NGO in Bombay. Its principle: “reteach” the fundamentals according to the students’ actual level. “TARL has proven itself in India, in several countries in Africa and Latin America,” explains the ministry, which has trained 12,000 teachers, all volunteers, in this method. Since the start of the 2023 school year, it has benefited some 300,000 students in more than 600 so-called “pioneer” primary schools.

The first results are encouraging. At the start of the school year, in September, “80% of children did not master the fundamental skills taught the previous year,” reports a study commissioned by education. Two months later, tests carried out on 60,000 students showed that their mastery rate had increased four-fold in mathematics, three-fold in French and two-fold in Arabic. “Which corresponds to a catch-up of one to two years of schooling,” assesses the minister’s office, which welcomes “an unprecedented shift in the learning curve.”

From the start of the 2027-2028 school year, the TARL method will be generalized to all schools and colleges in Morocco, but this announced schedule raises questions. “At the moment, pioneering schools are targeting less than 10% of students. How are we going to extend this model to 6 million children in less than four years? », notes, skeptically, a ministry official, on condition of anonymity.

A former teacher at the Center for Educational Guidance and Planning, economist Azeddine Akesbi recalls the failure, twenty years ago, of the generalization of preschool for children under 6 years of age, which was to have been achieved in 2004. Unfortunately, only half of children aged 4 to 5 years benefit from structured preschool today, apart from the informal sector. “The risk, from all points of view, is that we are heading towards the same scenario,” he warns, pointing out the obstacles to the rapid massification of pioneering establishments: inadequate teacher training, degraded working environment, overcrowding classes, inadequacy of school programs…

"brutal disappointment"

Triggered by a project for a unified status of education officials, an appendix to the reform, the long teachers' strike, which paralyzed schools for more than a month at the end of 2023, also shed light on what was perceived as a blind spot in the education project: the salary conditions of a body which alone represents half of the state agents in Morocco.

The mobilization and duration of the movement were such that Aziz Akhannouch was forced to take the matter in hand and let go: 9 billion dirhams (821 million euros) will be allocated to increasing teachers' salaries, i.e. 30% to 40% increase on average per salary. “A brutal disavowal for Chakib Benmoussa,” notes someone close to the former ambassador. Half-heartedly, the minister admits not having perceived the urgency of this request for revaluation, confiding to have been “called to order by the reality on the ground”.

The next legislative elections will take place at the end of 2026. Until then, and while rumors of a government reshuffle are rife, will Chakib Benmoussa manage to keep Aziz Akhannouch's promise to improve the education system? Moroccan among the top sixty in the world? “Pioneer establishments are giving results and it is not a laboratory, it is a sufficiently large scale to consider that we are on the right track,” maintains the minister, who nevertheless warns: “All of this is still very fragile. »