RABAT, Morocco - Pupils and students return to school in Morocco this week, with the government vowing to implement a wide-ranging reform in the country's school system.
The Moroccan education system has been under fire for years for being outdated and unable to keep pace with the ever-growing challenges of the modern world.
Morocco has a 55 percent illiteracy rate, the worst in north Africa, and among the highest in the world.
There have been numerous efforts in recent years at badly needed reform in the country's school system. But those efforts have largely proven ineffective.
Now, King Mohammed VI is taken his shot at the problem. Since taking power last year, he has attempted to spearhead the effort to improve the country's school system. He called on the government and parliament to put together a "new education strategy," aimed at fighting illiteracy and better equipping young Moroccans for the job market.
The strategy itself, however, will not go into effect until next year. The details still need to be worked out, government officials said.
In general, the officials said, the strategy would focuses on getting more children, particularly in rural areas, into schools, and ensuring schools and universities to the needs of the modern job market.
The rural areas are in the worst shape, with a serious lack of education infrastructure. Many rural children do not attend schools. Those that often need to travel long distances to get to school.
The government has vowed to build 2,714 schools in rural areas by the end of next year.
The new education strategy also aims to reform the current problematic university curriculum. "A look at the courses show that the pupils are not taught useful disciplines that spur their intelligence," said Mohamed Radawi, a teacher at a Rabat high school. "Besides, the program is very long.
As we do not manage to complete it by the end of the year, pupils are often tested in courses that they never took."
Hundreds of university students demonstrated in Rabat and Sale in June demanding a change in curriculum.
The promised new education strategy is also slated to include the introduction of modern technology courses at primary and high schools for the first time in Morocco's history.
The move seeks to enhance the competencies of the pupils and to open new horizons for them," an education official said.
Recently, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) helped fund a US$800 million program to equip several schools with computers and to train teachers on the use of modern technology in education.
One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the effort to better equip classrooms as "a move in the right direction," However, he added, much more is needed.
Some thirty-percent of US aid to Morocco goes to education. Premier Abderrahmane Youssoufi announced recently that the government will earmark some 5 percent of GDP to education next year.
In addition, wealthy Moroccans begin to be required to pay for secondary and university education, while the poor will continue to benefit from free education at all levels.
The decision came in response to criticism free education helped the wealthy more than the poor. A study conducted by former education minister Rachid Belmokhtar showed that the very wealthy benefit from 65 percent of education spending compared 5.5 percent for the poor.
The plan stipulates that university scholarships will be extended only to gifted students of needy families. Currently, scholarships worth US$130 per student every three months are granted to all university students without exception, which contributes to the heavy burden shouldered by the state.
"This is a battle that Moroccans have to win, if they want to survive in the new world environment and bring their country to something like the twenty-first century," said Radawi, the school teacher a Rabat.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )