Educational Reforms in Morocco: A Chronology of Failures

Disillusionment and despair over the deterioration of Morocco’s educational system have lingered since Morocco’s independence in 1956. Many reforms have been implemented to no avail. Even after squandering billions of dirhams on trying to reform education, Morocco’s educational system remains among the lowest performing in the world.
Educational Reforms in Morocco A Chronology of Failures
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 When Morocco gained independence from France in 1956, the country found itself scrambling to form a national workforce after the departure of the French colonizers. This critical post-colonial period brought additional challenges, and the state relied on improving educational policy to meet the demands of a new social and economic reality. The Royal Commission for Education Reform instituted the first reform in 1957, under the name “Educational Movement.” It prioritized making education accessible, especially because the state urgently needed to reconstruct and reconfigure all of its institutions.

Until 1963, the state’s efforts were concentrated on universalizing education and combating the country’s 96 percent illiteracy rate. The authorities then took concrete measures such as building new schools, creating clubs, youth centers, and libraries, and organizing training workshops for youth. This shared enthusiasm for promoting education in Morocco also resulted in the creation of two national councils: one for sports and another for youth.

At the same time, however, there was also a fundamental disagreement over the  linguistic policy known as “Arabization” that the Moroccan government enacted to transform school curricula which up until then had been largely in French into Arabic. In addition, the contention over which national project to focus on deepened this disagreement between Moroccans. This dispute prevented the adoption of a unified national vision for education, which remains a problem today. Although there was a general optimism in the period between 1957 and 1963, reflected in the remarkable foundational work done by the state, in subsequent years, initiatives fell short of their objectives.

Confusion and fluctuations in educational reforms characterized the era from 1964 to 1972 reflecting the overall unstable and volatile political and social conditions in Morocco at the time. During this eight-year span, ten ministers of education passed through that office. Social and political tensions peaked on March 23, 1965, when security forces killed or jailed scores of high school students in Casablanca who were protesting the government’s unpopular policies.  reported seven deaths, although the political opposition reported up to 400.

The protestors united in opposition to the education ministry’s decision to alleviate pressure on the budget by dismissing thousands of high school students aged 15 to 17 years old. The use of excessive violence against high school students indicated to many that the state had been dishonest in declaring its intentions to reform and improve the Moroccan school system.

On several occasions, the late King Hassan II declared that education only opens the floodgates for “dissidence and opposition” to his regime. In a statement to French journalist Jean Daniel, director of Nouvel Observateur, the former king confirmed that he did not want to educate his populace properly because those who had been taught had become either leftist revolutionaries or Islamic dissidents against his regime.

A few days after the events in Casablanca, King Hassan II addressed the population in a speech broadcast on national television: “I herein address teachers and tell them that it is characteristic of men and intellectuals, in particular, to have the courage to express their views, not to make use of pupils or hide behind school children.” He concluded his speech on a threatening note, describing teachers as “semi-intellectuals.”

“I say to you that semi-intellectuals pose no danger to any state, and you are indeed semi-intellectuals . . . if only you were ignorant.”

“I say to you that semi-intellectuals pose no danger to any state, and you are indeed semi-intellectuals . . . if only you were ignorant,” he said.

Education during this critical stage became a secondary concern for the state. The monarchy was mainly concerned with stabilizing and empowering its pillars of support and eliminating dissidents. The reforms adopted during this stage were in line with the recommendations of the national debate on education held in Maamoura, Rabat, in 1964.

Among those recommendations were the emphasis on Arabo-Islamic values, the integration, and assimilation of new technologies, the proposition of Arabized primary education and bilingual secondary education, the proposition of vocational training, and the improvement of educational infrastructure. Yet afterward, these recommendations remained largely unfulfilled due to the reduction in the education budget and other structural, managerial, and pedagogical problems.

Due to the failure of the previous reforms, most of the educational projects that had been adopted were completely or partially abandoned in the absence of adequate administrative frameworks and feasible action plans. In the early 1970s, amid the increasing national outrage at the failing education system, education officials in Morocco realized that they had to institute a radical reform.

Thus, the Five-Year Plan of 1973-1977 was developed, providing a roadmap for the reform of education. It mainly focused on the enhancement of enrollment rates, “Moroccan-ization” of teachers and other educators, and reducing access to higher education according to the needs of the job market.

The unsuccessful implementation of the Five-Year Plan and the unsatisfactory results it yielded led to another reform, the Three-Year Plan, which spanned 1978 to 1980. This plan is remembered for its austere policy that mainly focused on the development of education in the rural areas of Morocco, with little to no concern for urban areas. It also focused on the “Moroccan-ization” of teachers and the promotion of applied subjects.

The 1980 national debate on educational reform, held in Ifrane, addressed the continuous failures of Moroccan educational reform and suggested a comprehensive vision for education. However, the debate itself failed to develop an adequate charter for reform and settled for drafting a preliminary document on how to approach reform.

Another reform plan, instituted in 1985, responded to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund and its structural adjustment program for Morocco. The main characteristic of this reform was the reduction of expenditures on education to re-establish the country’s fiscal balance. It also recommended working in multi-level classes, steering students toward technical education and vocational training, and encouraging private education to alleviate the pressure on public education.  

The reforms implemented between 1956 and 1998 failed to meet the demands and the needs of a growing society. The mismatch between Morocco’s educational system and the domestic job market continued to plague the country and increase the number of unemployed graduates year in and year out.

Today, a high dropout rate, especially among female students, and disparities between rural and urban regions remain the primary issues facing Morocco’s educational system. Despite efforts to the contrary, attempts thus far to improve the quality of education in a competitive, globalized world have been extremely unsuccessful.

The string of blatantly ineffective reforms that Morocco has implemented since its political independence has cast a cloud of pessimism and doubt over Moroccan schools. Some analysts attribute the failure of the Moroccan school system to the lack of sustained, long-term strategies as well as the lack of sustainable resources.

However, the problem is structural, institutional, and political. Education cannot be successfully reformed without comprehensively fixing broken political and economic systems and restoring a sense of trust and faith in Morocco’s future.

By the death of King Hassan II in 1999, the crisis of Morocco’s educational system had grown alarmingly severe, including persistent problems such as dropouts, high illiteracy and unemployment rates, a mismatch between education and the domestic job market, disparities between rural and urban schools, and weak educational infrastructure. King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne revived Moroccans’ hope for a better future, especially for those who saw the young king as their savior from a multifaceted predicament.

Before his death, King Hassan II commissioned 34 national scholars, business leaders, intellectuals, and politicians to craft a radical education reform, but he did not live to see the outcome. The royal committee soon developed what is known as the National Charter for Education and Training (NCET), and it was incumbent upon the newly enthroned king to put the new reforms into practice.

In a speech about education in October 1999, King Mohammed VI said: “Our goal [behind the new reform] is to create a good citizen who is able to acquire knowledge and skills, [who is] proud of his identity, . . . aware of his rights, local affairs, and national obligations . . . ; a citizen who is ready to serve his country . . . ; a citizen who is self-reliant and can take personal initiative with confidence, courage, faith, and optimism.”

The National Charter was a reform system that included a set of standards aimed at altering Morocco’s educational system at all levels. This reform’s main objective was to create a Moroccan school system that is accredited and internationally competitive, connected to society and cognizant of socio-economic variables, and abreast of all new developments in science and technology.

The charter consisted of two main sections. The first examined the unchanging foundations of Morocco’s educational system and envisaged new goals. It also specified the rights and duties of all educational partners and stakeholders. The second section was devoted to the areas of pedagogical innovation and support for change.

The charter was based on a set of principles that included adherence to the Islamic faith, the cultivation of students’ patriotism, and the preservation of the constitutional monarchy. It also sought to preserve Morocco’s cultural and linguistic heritage while reconciling tradition and modernity. The charter’s major goals aimed to make the learner the axis of reform by raising the level of achievement, knowledge, and skills through the fulfillment of the learner’s mental and emotional needs.

The charter also sought to revitalize Moroccan schools, transforming them into lively, open, and dynamic centers of learning. The Moroccan university was envisaged as an engine for development, innovation, and change. According to the principles of the NCET, educational institutions in the country should be spaces for human rights, freedoms, self-learning, and constructive dialogue. Thus, when this reform was announced and discussed in the parliament and by the national media, many observers described it as a serious, ambitious, and revolutionary reform.  

Under the auspices of King Mohammed VI, the head of the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research, the NCET came into force in 2000. The charter declared the decade 2000-2009 to be the “Decade of Education,” and many officials placed educational reform as the second highest priority for the country, behind territorial integrity. Unlike previous reforms, which were forced on the Moroccan school system without consultation or in-depth study, many Moroccans had high hopes in the NCET because it was meticulously detailed, well thought-out, and implementable. The passage of the charter was a decisive event that would change the course of the country in the years to come.

The “Decade of Education,” however, was subject to fluctuation and irregularity. The charter attained some positive results on the quantitative side, but on the qualitative side it was disastrous. Most of the objectives set up by the NCET were far-fetched. The reform boasted some relative, quantitative successes, like the decentralization, diversification, and consolidation of educational infrastructure. Some commentators also hailed the state’s encouragement of private education and the improvement of teachers’ financial statuses and working conditions. However, the universalization of primary education remains the most acclaimed achievement of the NCET (enrollment rates reached more than 99 percent in urban areas and 98 percent in rural areas.)

Critics of the charter focus on what has not been achieved, namely, the promised enhancement of the quality of elementary and primary education. Article 25 of the charter states: “During the national decade of education and training, elementary, primary and preparatory education shall receive the highest priority . . . .” Article 26 states: “Education shall be compulsory from the age of six to the age of fifteen.” The charter succeeded in keeping students at school until the age of fifteen, but at what cost? Critics have asserted that it was at the expense of educational quality and cost-effectiveness.

The slogan “School of Success,” created by officials in the Ministry of Education, failed to live up to its optimistic prospects. Although it is true that students’ mobility from one level to another became flexible, it came at the expense of educational quality. Large groups of students who moved from the primary to the secondary level did not have fundamental reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Inadequate secondary education, in turn, opened the door for large numbers of students to enter university without having the basic requirements needed for a university education. University education annually sent thousands of graduates into the clutches of unemployment because of the wide gap between what students were learning and what the job market required.

The failure of the National Charter for Education and Training led to what is known as the Emergency Plan, which spanned from 2009 to 2012. The Emergency Plan was considered a roadmap that outlined the practical steps that needed to be taken to restore confidence in the public school system and rectify the gaps left by the NCET. Its establishment was based on the results of a report done by the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research in 2008.

The plan had an estimated budget of MAD 33 billion ($3.5 billion), most of which the state provided. This large budget was unprecedented in the history of reforms in Morocco, providing an opportunity for the government to renew most of the dilapidated educational infrastructure and provide it with the necessary equipment; however, the money was spent neither responsibly nor transparently.

A report released in 2012 by the Ministry of Education revealed that the Emergency Plan had officially failed. Former Minister of Education Mohamed Al-Wafa said during a parliamentary education committee meeting that the Emergency Plan had many shortcomings which eventually led to its inevitable failure.

Some of those shortcomings, according to the minister, were the absence of a participatory and contractual approach to project implementation, and the lack of transparency in managing financial matters. He also pointed to the complete absence of due diligence for deals worth more than MAD 5 million ($527,000), and the absence of reports on the completion of deals worth more than MAD 1 million. The minister also noted the persistence of such problems as school dropout rates (more than 10.8 percent among middle schoolers) and overcrowded classrooms.

After the failure of the Emergency Plan, the Supreme Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research initiated in 2015 a new strategic vision for educational reform that currently extends to 2030. It calls for the establishment of a new school system based on equity, equality, opportunity, and quality for all, and the advancement of the individual and society.

These slogans, like those used in previous reforms, are glamorous and alluring. They trigger hope and resuscitate the failing heart of education as the populace becomes forgetful of its previous experiences with educational reform. Yet, the success of any project is not measured by how officials introduce it or label it, but by whether the results it ultimately yields are tangible. Moroccan taxpayers deserve a robust education system, but 62 years of waiting raises the question: when will that system ever come into fruition?