How to improve the performance of the educational system by changing the reception language?

by Mazigh Chakir

It is commonly known that language is one of the basic sources of human development, for there can be no cultural or intellectual development without a language which can carry and convey knowledge in its environment, on its territory, and among its users. With it, human experience can be handed down from generation to generation.

Throughout the modern history of Morocco, the linguistic policy in the education system has attracted the attention of researchers and politicians, given its importance in the definition and shaping of the nation’s future. As of 1958, Morocco proceeded with the adoption of a linguistic policy based on the gradual Arabization of the taught courses to cover all primary education levels. From the early years of the implementation of this linguistic policy, educational professionals noticed a clear regression in the level of the pupils’ school performance

a remark to be, later on, backed-up by the studies conducted by researchers. However, for political and ideological reasons, the governments that took office in the country maintained the Arabization policy without having any clear view or vision 1 .

Fifty years later, the limitation of this linguistic policy is being admitted. In fact this confession was manifested on Aug.

20, 2014 by the Head of State in his address, when he declared that “The education sector is facing many problems and difficulties, especially due to the disruptions resulting from the change of the teaching language of scientific subjects from Arabic, in the primary and secondary levels, to some foreign

languages in which some technical and scientific courses are taught in tertiary education.”

What is a linguistic policy?

A linguistic policy is a policy followed by a state or an international organization regarding one or several languages spoken on the territories that are under its authority in order for this language to be reformed, set with a purpose to support its use, sometimes to limit its expansion or even work to eliminate it. In the Moroccan case, the taught languages are Arabic and French. In some model schools the Amazigh language is added.

The teaching languages: these are the languages that have been chosen to make communication possible between the two parties involved in the educational process, namely the teacher and the student. The simple communication operation which consists of questions and answers is the channel through which the transmission of knowledge takes place.

From the country’s independence onwards, the linguistic situation has been characterized by the choice of Arabic as the vehicular language in which subjects are being taught at the primary level in public schools nationwide. This situation has constituted a hindrance for the learning process, for the pupil moves suddenly from a surrounding where knowledge is acquired in his or her mother tongue to a surrounding that uses a language which is foreign to him or her. The further one gets from the urban space, the worse the situation gets. The human factor further widens the gap: the appointment policy which consists in sending some inexperienced new graduate teachers to regions of which they do not master the language makes the matter worse. This leads to their linguistic isolation and renders the simplest communication next to impossible.

This situation accounts particularly for the regression witnessed in the performance of scientific subjects.

To that effect, two studies (namely TIMSS 2003 2 and PIRLS 2006 3 ) have shown Moroccan pupils’ weak performance in scientific subjects and reading. Thus, the TIMSS field survey conducted in 2003 revealed that 61% of the pupils at the fourth grade level were lacking in the minimal level of knowledge relating to mathematics. Within the same grade, the rate reaches 66% in scientific subjects. As for the PIRLS study conducted in 2006 on the fourth grade students in primary education, it turned out that 74% of these pupils were lacking in the minimal level

of reading and comprehension. This result, which coincided with development of the Emergency Educational Programme

2009-2012, was later confirmed by the 2009 national field study and the subsequent ones which followed, particularly the 2011 PIRLS and TIMSS studies. In the field of sciences, in the TIMSS study Morocco had a score of 264 points, which ranks Morocco at the penultimate position before Yemen (209 points). In the same study, Morocco’s scores in knowledge acquisition and logic were respectively 264 and 209 points, which – again – ranks the country in the next-to-last position 4 .

Concerning reading, a UNESCO study published in 2014 demonstrated that the level of pupils in the fourth grade who are lacking the minimal prerequisites in terms of reading has reached 65%.

The cost of illiteracy


UNESCO defines the objectives of education as being “ the commensurable benefit of appropriate programs which aim at the acquisition of necessary knowledge and skills for daily life.” The present linguistic policy meets neither the aforementioned requirements nor the Education for All program objectives, set by UNESCO for the year 2015. The first four years at school, supposedly dedicated to “the acquisition of knowledge and skills necessary for daily life”, are wasted in the acquisition of the teaching language, which explains the results of the aforementioned studies. When we know that the Arabic language is not used in the scientific and technical branches, given its limitation in transmitting modern sciences5 , then all the funds spent on its teaching turn out to be but a pure waste.

Adopted by the State in the Training and Education Charter, one of the 2015 UNESCO objectives is to stop school dropout. In this respect too, the present linguistic policy is only mak- ing the situation worse, as demonstrated by a field study that shows a rupture between the school and its environment due to the difference between the languages used inside and out- side the class room 6.

Timeline of linguistic policies

in Morocco since Independence The linguistic policies implemented by the successive governments since independence can be summed up in six phases:

1958 – 1972 the implementation of Arabic at the primary level while giving precedence to foreign languages,

1973 – 1977 the gradual Arabization of social sciences in high schools and the linking of Morocconization to Arabization,

1978 -1980 the multiplication of Arabization efforts at the secondary level, with a focus on the level consolidation of foreign language as secondary languages,

1980 – 1999 the reconfirmation of the decision to Arabize the scientific subjects in the secondary level,

2000 – 2013 raising the perfection level of Arabic language learners with a minimum of two foreign languages, while making room for a gradual openness to the Amazigh language,

2013 after the end of the period specified by the Charter, the Head of State comes back to set the broad lines of the Country’s linguistic policy, and appoints a new delegate chair of the Supreme Education Council instead of the late Mezziane Belefqih. This paves the way for the launch of the Education System and Linguistic Policy project which coincides with an openness of the political and cultural circles to less radical models, especially after the officialization of the Amazigh language, and given also the experiences accumulated by these circles with the Arabization models.

The Hindrances faced by the Reform

The main hindrance takes expression in the ideology adopted by the general opinion and the decision makers. These latter see in Arabization a guarantor of Morocco’s identity and belonging to its surrounding although all the studies and considerations confirm that Arabization has become a hindrance to the education system and the community as a whole. Salah Dine Hammoud comes to the conclusion that “with all due respect the Moroccans have for Arabic and for its place, there is still a dissatisfaction and a clear lack of trust towards the numerous attempts at Arabizing the scientific subjects in education.” The study also shows some contradictions in the results where most of the interviewees accept the Arabization of education, while preferring to study at schools where Arabic is not the vehicular language 7 .

Suggested measures to adress the problem

Based on the preceding analysis of the problem, we can suggest three policy measures which may help to address the situation:

The gradual rehabilitation and integration of the two mother languages, Darija and Tamazight, in the linguistic policy. Any language apart from these shall be considered as foreign by the receivers, which will make it difficult for them to learn, especially in the first primary education level. The level of mastery of the mother tongue has a direct effect on the pupil’s capacities for acquiring another language.

Adapting the linguistic policy with the local and regional needs and circumstances, given the fact that Morocco has an important language diversity which necessitates a specific linguistic policy for each region that should suit its local native language and local culture.

Adopting a rationalized employment policy in the education sector based on regionalization in a way that makes possible the hiring of teachers who can speak the local language spoken by the natives of the region.

1 Conclusion drawn by Salah Dine Hammoud, Arabizing Education and Linguistic Policies between the Past and the Present, in The Book of Language and Education, (Le comité libanais pour les sciences de l’éducation, Avril 2000) Chap. III, p. 102.

2 Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study

3 Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study

4 Azzeddine Aqesby ,Reforming Education: A royal Project, A Disastrous Output and an Absence of Accountability, published in the Lacom site October, 28th , 2013

5 A conclusion reached by Salah Dine Hammoud through his study entitled The Arabization of Education and the Linguistic Policies between the Past and the Present, in Language and Education, op. cit. Ch. III, p. 105.

6 the phenomenon of school dropout in the rural world, the case of Ghris laaliyi, Guelmima, Morocco, A field Study conducted

by Saïd Belaadich, a postgraduate from Meknes University

7 Salah Dine Hammoud, The Arabization of Education and the Linguistic Policies between the Past and the Present, in Language and Education, Ch. III, p. 104

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