RABAT, Morocco – Last week, the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, gave an unexpected and powerful speech criticizing the state of the country’s education, urging major reforms and blaming the current government for the lack of recent improvement.
He said that it is “Sad to note that the state of education is worse now than it was twenty years ago.”
“How is it that a segment of our youth can not realize their legitimate aspirations at professional, physical and social levels,” added the king in the August 20 televised speech. “We still have a long, arduous journey ahead of us if we are to enable this sector to actually play its role as an engine for the achievement of economic and social advancement.”
The monarch said that the education offered was not suited to the needs of the labor market. He echoed criticism of a linguistic shift that many professionals in the education field have been criticizing: Basic education starts in Arabic but later in the curriculum, teaching switches to French.
He encouraged Moroccans to master foreign languages and recommended the requirement of at least two foreign languages to acquire a university degree.
“Moroccans will expand their knowledge base, refine their skills, and gain competence needed to be able to work in Morocco’s new professions and areas of employment, in which there is a significant shortage of skilled workers,” he said.
The king also attacked the elected government, accusing it of not pursuing the 2009- 2012 emergency education plan shaped by a former minister, Ahmed Akhchichine.
“It hardly makes sense for each government to come with a new plan every five years and disregard previous programs,” he said. “The education sector should, therefore, not be included in the sphere of purely political matters, nor should its management be subjected to outbidding tactics or party politics.”
The king called for a national debate on the issue to obtain meaningful results. He demanded that politicians leave politics to the side and work for the best of the country.
“Sterile and detestable debate is useless. Stigmatization of individuals does not help solving problems, but rather exacerbates them,” he concluded.
While many applauded the king’s speech, some politicians are skeptical of the capacity for reform. The country still has high illiteracy rates, with about half of the population not knowing how to read.
Amina Maelainine, a member of parliament in the Justice and Development Party that currently leads the government, published a note on her Facebook page where she argued, with an ironic tone, that the problems of the education system did not start with the new government.
“So the Benkirane [current Prime Minister] government is also responsible for the failure of the educational system in Morocco. Within a year and a half, this government has nullified all “historical” progress in this sector,” she wrote.
The banned but tolerated Islamist Justice and Charity Party reacted on their website by saying that the dysfunctions pointed out by the king are nothing new and added that “The national education sector remain a tool of manipulation in the hands of the power which guarantees its durability and stability.”