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Morocco’s Mismatch Between Graduates And Jobs

RABAT, Morocco — Public universities in Morocco throw open their doors Sept. 11 for the new academic year and, like every year, students will walk in and be greeted with the same old problems. Crowded lecture halls, too few teachers, rote instruction and of course language: recent high school graduates, who had studied in Arabic their entire academic lives will be forced to study in French, a language they barely know.

Politicians will resume debate over the direction of the country’s education reform.

“Conditions aren’t great,” said Qods Lefnatsa, a 22-year-old economics student at the University of Rabat. “The continuous changes of reforms only play a negative role.”

In August, the Moroccan king Mohammed VI gave a grim review of the state of Morocco’s education system, saying he was “sad to note the state of education is worse now than it was 20 years ago.”

He urged policy makers to put aside personal agendas and end political bickering to do what was best for Moroccans.

“It hardly makes sense for each government to come up with a new plan every five years and disregard previous programs,” the king said in the Aug. 20 televised speech. “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 problems of the Moroccan education system are massive and it shows: Around half the population is illiterate, despite the fact that a quarter of the state’s budget is spent on educating them.

There are about 6.5-million students in elementary and high school and 600,000 students enrolled in higher education.  Around one-third of the country’s civil servants work in education.  The most recent World Bank figures available indicate the country spends about 5.4 percent of its gross domestic product on education, which puts it in the same league as international education powerhouses such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

But the system struggles with inefficiency and its graduates struggle to get jobs. One major problem is language, say analysts.

A French protectorate up until 1956, Moroccan education was always in French. While the Moroccan government, led by the conservative Istiqlal party, decided to switch the teaching language to Arabic in primary schools in the 1980s, the language of instruction remained French for higher education.

That decision has meant disaster for students educated at public schools and one of the reasons dropout rates in universities are extremely high, education professionals say.

As well as criticizing education, the king also denounced the discrepancy between what is learned at school and what is needed for the job market – a criticism that many analysts applaud.

“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,” said Khalid Soulami, former director of the regional education authority of the city of Al Jadida. “I think the problem also is in the classroom where there is a need for really good teachers.”  Soulami would also like to see clearer goals for reform.

A few months ago, the World Bank awarded a $100-million loan to boost education reform and access in the North African country.

“Morocco has seen increases in access to schooling at all levels of the system and enrollment in primary education is now near-universal,” said Jeffrey Waite, World Bank Task Team Leader. “But although much has been achieved in expanding access to schooling, further reforms are needed to improve the outcomes of education, notably its quality and the overall performance of the sector.”

While some programs such as those offered at the business school ISCAE in Casablanca, a well-regarded public business school that has 3-year programs in trade, finance, and marketing, give graduates the opportunity to land jobs in their target industry, those along with medical schools and engineering schools – who include among their alumni executives, researchers, ministers and ambassadors — absorb less than three percent of high school graduates.

Analysts say there is a need for more programs in the 15 public universities that include 110 professional schools.

“We cannot correctly compare a university that supports more than 74,000 students and a program like ISCAE that has 2,000 students,” said Professor Samir Belfkih, a member of parliament in the education commission. “However, some laureates of certain engineering schools and schools that train executives manage to integrate their students into the labor market more easily than those from other training programs.”

According to Belfkih, all those who are working to improve education must find ways to consolidate their efforts and work together to combine gains and correct malfunctions.

“The law that has been governing higher education since May 2001 should be revised so that it fits with the needs of society today,” he said. “The value of short programs must be increased in order to meet the needs of society today.”

Meanwhile, students, like Selma, a 23-year-old studying biology at the University of Sciences of Rabat say the main problems lie in the lack of direction during the studies and the minimal practical experience acquired.

“We all think the same, we cannot wait for this hell to end,” Selma said half joking. “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.”

Qods Leftesna, another student in Rabat, believes the most urgent reform must take place at a fundamental level. She also says that there is a strong need for more professors.

“This is where students get the basics that will enable them to perform better in higher education,” she said. “We must also give more freedom to the students to choose. We continue placing the best students in sciences and the others in literary courses when they could have excelled elsewhere.”

Having mastered French, these students are two of the lucky ones – they won’t likely have problems integrating into the job market.

Meanwhile, hundreds of unemployed graduates continue their regular protests in front of the parliament demanding more jobs from the state – a demand the government cannot answer.

It is too late for changes to take place for this academic year but many hope the recent royal speech will push reforms.

Still, others think it will take much more for improvements to happen. There are those who believe the monarchy would prefer to keep the population uneducated, despite what the king said.

“If we were under a constitutional monarchy where the elected government makes decisions on its own, I would have been convinced by what I have heard (in the royal speech) on the failure of the national education system and the real culprits of this failure,” Fatima Ifriqi, a Moroccan columnist, posted to Facebook.

“But the popular memory is alive and we all know who ultimately makes the decisions.”

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