Vocational Education: No Instant Cure
AGADIR—Last month, the Moroccan minister of higher education, Lahcen Daoudi, said that most humanities and law graduates in Morocco should expect to become unemployed. More students, the minister suggested, should consider vocational schools, which he said ensure better employment prospects.
Yet many graduates of those schools are discovering that vocational education is not an instant solution. Twenty-two-year old Eman Al-Khuzamy did not expect to reach a dead end after graduation. But she says: “As a holder of a diploma in hotel management, housing and cooking section, I faced several challenges to find a job, many of which were due to trivial reasons.” She wears a headscarf and discovered that hotels prefer such women do not work around foreigners.
After her graduation, Al-Khuzamy’s perspective on the job market changed completely. She is now certain that what she learned is not what the labor market needs. “They teach us only the positive aspects of the tourism world,” she says, “and they intentionally avoid introducing the negative aspects.” She believes employers think that men are more qualified for vocational education than women. Eman is now studying journalism and media. She realizes that those subjects may not yield fast employment, but says that at least she finds them interesting.
Mohammed Al-Emry, a graduate in information technology from the vocational development institute in Agadir, says the problem is not just Moroccan higher education, but the Moroccan economy. “It is indeed very difficult to find jobs because of the lack of demand versus the excessive supply.” Sarah Al-Sawy, 20, a graduate of the infographics department at the Centre Mixte De Formation Professionnelle d’Agadir, says: “There are not enough job opportunities and salaries in the private sector are very low. Thus, I preferred to pursue my post-graduate studies and work as a freelancer.”
Omar, the principal of a secondary school in Agadir, says: “Currently, vocational education in Morocco does not follow a clear plan, and that is why vocational-development centers and their outputs are very weak compared to other countries.” Mohammad Al-Sharkawy, director and founding member of the International Project for Education and Health, agrees with Omar: “Vocational education in our country does not bode well, because its strategies do not tackle the actual problems that prevent graduates from entering the labor market.”
The shortcomings of vocational education in Morocco are part of a bigger crisis in the educational system. A recent report prepared by the Supreme Council for Education, Development, and Scientific Research entitled “Strategic Vision for Reform 2015-2030” stated that the system suffers from chronic problems including the “poor level of languages and other disciplines, weak performance of schools, vocational and university education, inefficiency of educational supervisors, limited access to technology resources, poor quality and quantity of scientific research, and the difficulty of socio-economic, cultural, and ethnic inclusion which the graduates face.”
Vocational education in Morocco provides an important opportunity for youth to specialize in various fields such as mechanics, electricity, agriculture, design, engineering, fishing, management, health, tourism, and applied technology. But much of what is taught at public institutions and private vocational institutes is not that practical. Mohammed Ayat Naser, a mechanic, said: “I had a group of graduates from a mechanics’ school at my shop. For eight months, those trainees had difficulty entering the labor market, because what they learned in the vocational-development centers was limited to theoretical aspects without any practical training.”
It seems that reforms and changes in vocational education in Morocco announced at various times—1984, 1996, and 2000—have not improved conditions significantly.
The report issued by the Supreme Council for Education, Development, and Scientific Research highlights the increase in dropout rates, in spite of the reported progress in educational services. From 2000 to 2012, around 3 million students dropped out of preparatory and secondary schools. Half of them did not finish primary education. One million students dropped out of the last year of preparatory school and the first two years of vocational secondary education.
The latest statistics conducted by the labor training and vocational development office showed an increase in the number of students enrolling in vocational development centers: 370,360 students enrolled in the academic year 2014-2015 in 337 institutions, a 9 percent increase from the previous year.
According to the analytical report by the Supreme Council for Education, Development, and Scientific Research, vocational education is of paramount importance for secondary-school dropouts. The council says demand is especially high in technical and specialized fields such as aeronautics maintenance.
But the report also stated that vocational education is not meeting the needs of the huge numbers of children and youth who don’t pursue university studies but could benefit from additional professional training.
Saeed Honayn, a teacher at the vocational development institute in Agadir, says: “Officials in the vocational-development sector are not concerned with quality. They focus on increasing numbers of graduates every year without paying much attention to their knowledge or skills, and that is the reason behind the failure [of graduates] to join the labor market.”
As for the private sector, Ahmed Dahan, director of a private vocational development institute in Agadir, says: “The situation is difficult because of the complicated administrative procedures.” Getting a license to open an institute can take three years, due to concern over building and equipment safety, and getting accreditation can take four years after graduating the first group of students.
As a result, many private vocational schools are not accredited, making the certificates of the trainees of little value compared to those obtained at public vocational institutions. But many students are not aware of this when they enter the private institutes.
The government would like more students to choose vocational education, to relieve the country’s overcrowded public universities and to decrease unemployment. It has drafted a strategy to promote vocational education by the year 2020. According to the plan, practical training should be integrated and emphasized beginning in early primary education in some disciplines, helping students to choose a profession instead of dropping out of school.
A vocational education expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an interview: “This newly adopted strategy will face challenges, such as the lack of an efficient framework, training spaces, work mechanisms, and suitable job opportunities for graduates. I do not believe that this strategy will be implemented throughout all educational institutions. I think it will be applied gradually in some institutions.”
The strategy, he added, offers solutions to the deteriorating educational system, but the government has to consider opening more vocational development centers across the country to reach out to students in towns and villages, and not just in major cities.