RABAT, Morocco – Morocco allocates 25 percent of its annual budget to education, compared to the 13 percent average among developed nations that is, reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Despite the massive funding it receives, Morocco’s higher education system struggles to adequately prepare its 600,000 students for the professional world. Unemployment among graduates in Morocco now exceeds 20 percent. Critics say this is largely due to a disconnect between university curricula and the practical skills that Morocco’s economy depends on.
“There is a mismatch between those who enter the system, and those who exit it, and also between the education system and the economic system,” Khalid Soulami, former director of the regional education authority in Al Jadida, said to Al-Fanar Media.
Moroccan university students are quick to agree with this assessment, citing an imbalance between book work and real-world experience as a major shortcoming of Morocco’s universities. It is a shortcoming that often makes Moroccan businesses quicker to hire graduates of foreign universities before domestically-educated graduates.
“Opportunities for experience and field visits are almost non-existent. We just memorize material without really discussing it and most students don’t really know what will happen once they graduate,” Selma, 23, a biology student at the University of Sciences of Rabat, said to Al-Fanar.
Moroccan graduates are not content to stand by and allow the country’s higher education system to operate as is. Thousands of graduates gather weekly in front of the parliament building in Rabat to demand that the government take action and fix a higher education system that is currently unable to properly serve its people. They have not gone unnoticed by Morocco’s leaders. King Mohammed VI has been particularly outspoken on the issue.
“It’s sad to note that the state of education is worse now than it was 20 years ago,” Mohammad VI said in televised speech in August. “How is it that a segment of our youth cannot realize their legitimate aspirations at professional, physical and social levels?”
Among proposed answers to this question is the language barrier between students and the curricula used in universities.
Morocco was a protectorate of France until 1956. By the time Morocco gained independence, its education system was already well-established. Morocco had been using French curricula almost exclusively. In the 1980s, Morocco made a political decision to symbolize its independence by making Arabic the official language of its primary and secondary educational institutions. French remained the language of most of Morocco’s universities.
Morocco instituted the language change immediately. As a result, students just graduating high school are thrust into an academic environment where materials are presented to them in a language they barely grasp. Increasing dropout rates are often partially attributed to the language problem.
“One mistake was not progressively changing the courses to Arabic,” Rachid Mrabet, former director of the I.S.C.A.E., a business school in Casablanca, said to the New York Times.
Mohammad’s efforts to reform the school system include implementing language requirements in all degree programs to make students’ learning more practical. Other major causes for the inefficiency of Moroccan universities are partisan political agendas. The government’s manipulation of education policy for political gain has proven detrimental to the advancement of higher education in Morocco. Mohammad voiced his disapproval in a televised speech.
“The education sector should not be included in the sphere of purely political matters, nor should its management be subjected to outbidding tactics or party politics,” Mohammad said.
Morocco’s educational shortcomings are hindering its development. In order to see growth in its higher education system, Morocco must adapt its curriculum to the economy by heeding Mohammad’s advice and implementing more vocational and technical training. The economy will not be sustainable if jobs requiring technical skills are not filled. These jobs will not be filled if people are not taught how to fill them.
Morocco has the financial wherewithal to vastly improve its higher education system. It is simply a matter of taking a different approach.
– Matt Berg