Education in “Darija” divides Moroccans amid deteriorating system

Education in a dilemma

Morocco is increasingly laced with a heated debate about the introduction of dialectal Arabic “Darija” in school curriculum which has dramatically divided partisans and conservatives.
Moroccans speak Berber and Darija, a language that has kept changing along with the country's evolution. The dialectal Arabic is a mixture of French, Spanish Berber and classical Arabic and varies from one region to another.
Among the staunch supporters of education in Darija is advertising and communication magnet Noureddine Ayouch, founder of the Zakoura Education foundation.
Ayouch argues that teaching Darija will help resolve the crisis of education as the dialect is spoken by the majority of Moroccans.
The latest report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development titled “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain” revealed that Morocco is ranked 73rd in basic academic skills.
According to OECD, the analysis was based on test scores of 15 year-old students in mathematics and science in 76 developed and developing countries put in one scale.
The ranking is a clear sign of Morocco’s degrading educational system despite the Moroccan King’s call for the improvement of the educational sector during a speech almost two years ago.
“The situation of the educational sector requires a halt for an impartial test of conscience which will allow the evaluation of achievements and identification of weaknesses and dysfunctions,” King Mohammed VI during a speech to mark the Revolution of the King and his people in August 2013.
Retired high-school French teacher Ahmed Rissouli, who is against the introduction of Darija in education, blames the Moroccan government for the deteriorating educational system.
“The Moroccan government bears a huge responsibility for the situation. It’s a deliberate policy aimed at pushing Moroccans to put their children in private schools in order to save money spent on education,” Rissouli said.
A recent report published by a group of Moroccan NGOs in education denounced the closure of 191 primary and secondary schools between 2008 and 2013 in the North African country.
The report pointed out that other public schools are threatened with closure, reflecting the decline of the government’s commitment to a free and quality education for all.
In a bid to improve education standards, the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research submitted to the King a report of its strategic vision 2015-2030.
Among the key points, the report calls for making pre-school education compulsory and encouraging the development of a non-profit qualified private education which has been one a source of inequality in the Moroccan society.
However, the report recommends that Darija be taught at the first pre-school year, dealing a blow to its partisans. Darija supporters versus Arabic defenders
Darija supporters claim that the Moroccan dialect can easily substitute the classical Arabic in education because it is now being used everywhere, including the parliament.
“Moroccans talk daily in Darija. It is the language of creation par excellence whether it is oral or written. We tend to believe that Darija should only be used orally. This is not true. It can be also used in the production of novels and plays. Today, Darija is widely developed in advertising, communication, theatre and cinema,” Ayouch told the Moroccan NGO “Marocains Pluriels.”
Many companies have been using Darija in advertising billboards to promote their products and services to a wider audience, while Moroccans watch Turkish and South American soaps and dubbed in the Moroccan dialect besides the most popular TV programmes.
Abderrahim Youssi, professor of linguistics, translated “The Little Prince of Saint-Exupéry” novel into Darija back in 2009 in a bid to “eradicate illiteracy” because he argued that classical Arabic is a difficult language to learn and master.
Students from Ibn Sina secondary school in Marrakech performed Wednesday "The story of Antigone," play in Darija at Dar Attakafa-Daoudiat theatre, which is inspired by the work of French playwright Jean Anouilh.
This shows that Darija’s popularity is growing among Moroccans.
However, staunch defenders of classical Arabic argue that teaching in Darija will only destroy the language of the Holy Koran and plunge education into the abyss.
“I am against Darija being taught at school because of many reasons,” said Ahmed Mansoury, director of studies at Jeanne d’Arc school in Casablanca.
“Darija differs from one city to another and from one region to another. The question is which one will be used for teaching,” Mansoury said, citing a simple of the example of how the carrot can have different names in the North African country.
“There are no grammar rules for Darija. Furthermore, it’s very difficult to include Darija as a universal language because it simply has no basis unlike the classical Arabic whose words have their equivalent in other languages,” said Mansoury.
“Teaching Darija at schools would be a costly rollercoaster as we need to establish new guidelines and letters and wait for its outcomes.”
Mansoury said he was against the recommendation of Darija being taught at the first pre-school year because he argued that it was against the country’s constitution which stipulates that Arabic is the official language of the State.
Nevertheless, Mansouri said that he would support a clean Darija, which is close to Arabic, to be taught at the first two years of the primary schools.
He said that Arabic was not the problem behind Morocco’s 73rd ranking in basic academic skills.
“The problem is complex and involves many parties, including teachers, politicians, curriculum setters and parents,” noted Mansoury.
“School curricula are too heavy for students to handle,” he added, urging the education authorities to revise them in order to alleviate the burden on students.
Teaching Darija, which has divided Moroccans, continues to make headlines in the newspapers and draw heated debated on social networks while Morocco’s educational system is going through a serious crisis.