In August 2019 the Parliament approved a longawaited education framework law which aims to increase the quality and accessibility of the education system. The new law, officially known as framework law 51.17, puts into motion proposals recommended in its 15-year plan for the education sector, which runs from 2015 to 2030, and includes the recruitment and training of 200,000 new teachers. The plan bases the need for reform on the education system’s weaker areas, such as the economic difficulties faced by graduates.
Structure & Oversight
The new law makes a number of important changes to the structure of Morocco’s education system. Under the law, primary education, which covers six years, will be made available to pupils as young as four years old. Previously, primary education began at age six, and schooling before that point was considered pre-primary. Secondary education is divided in two three-year stages. The first stage, known as lower secondary, is compulsory, as is primary education. The second stage, known as qualifying secondary, is optional. While students in qualifying secondary schools have the choice to follow a general or technical track, the law outlines measures facilitating access to vocational training for students in lower secondary and improving such training for those pursuing it in qualifying secondary.
Changes and reforms stipulated by the new law will be gradually enacted over the next several years. For example, schools will have three years to integrate children aged four to six into primary schools. Similarly, the government has until 2025 to enact compulsory education for children between four and 16 years of age. While education stakeholders work to successfully meet the law’s deadlines, current structures and regulations will remain in place.
The Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research regulates the education sector and operates public educational facilities. The new education framework law further stipulated the establishment of a national commission to oversee implementation of the law and Morocco’s education reform at large. In October 2019 the Cabinet issued a decree directing the creation of such a commission. The office of Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani will preside over the commission and the ministry will act as its secretary-general.
In 2020 the operating budget for the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research was Dh65.3bn ($6.8bn), up from Dh62bn ($6.5bn) in 2019, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The 2020 figure made up roughly 27% of total government spending, an increase from 24% in 2018 and the average of 22% seen from 2007 to 2012. The ministry’s budget is part of the Dh72.4bn ($7.5bn) set aside for the implementation of the new education law. Additional funds are associated with plans to invest new higher education and professional training establishments.
According to ministry figures, in the 2018/19 academic year the total number of schools continued a decade-long trend of gradual growth. Between 2009 and 2019 the number of public schools in urban and rural areas grew by approximately 15%, bringing the urban total to 5038 and the rural total to 5994. Student enrolment grew at a similar pace, increasing by around 15% from 6.24m in 2009 to 7.19m at the start of the 2018/19 academic year.
From 2009 to 2019 the growth of private education significantly outpaced that of public education. Between the 2009/10 and 2018/19 academic years the total number of private schools increased by 91%, while their public counterparts grew by 15%. Public schools make up the majority of institutions, comprising 11,032 of the total of 16,680. Private schools, however, showed the highest rate of growth. Of the 4326 schools created from 2009 to 2019, 2872 were private and 1454 were public. Similarly, the number of students enrolled in private education has almost doubled, increasing from 576,700 in 2009 to about 1.04m at the start of 2018/19. In contrast, the number of students in public school grew by 9% over the same period, rising from 5.7m to reach approximately 6.1m.
More resources and the prospect of better academic performance has attracted Morocco’s growing middle class to private education in the kingdom. Students and parents cite access to better education and more resources as reasons to opt for private schools over public ones. The student-to-teacher ratio is lower in private institutions, indicating that students have more individual attention. In 2018/19 the country’s private schools had roughly 12 students for every teacher, while in public schools the ratio was closer to 23:1. In a May 2019 report from the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research (Conseil Supérieur de l’Education, de la Formation et de la Recherche Scientifique, CSEFRS), private school students outperformed their public school peers, scoring significantly higher in an international assessment measuring student learning in reading. The report noted that private school participants scored, on average, 461 out of 1000, while the average score among public school students was 340.
In terms of higher education, foreign students, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa, have been key contributors to the growth of private establishments. “In Morocco, private institutes of higher education are attractive to sub-Saharan students because they can be more affordable than similar institutes located in France,” Camal Gallouj, director of HEC Maroc, a private business school in Rabat, told OBG.
Between 2013/14 and 2018/19 the number of students in private higher education grew by approximately 33%; as a subset of this population, the number of foreign students grew by around 56%. Foreign students represent a notably higher percentage of the population in private establishments than in public ones. In the 2018/19 academic year foreign enrollees made up about 16% of the student population in private schools, while constituting only around 1% of the total in public institutions.
Although private schools play an essential role in diversifying education options for students, sector stakeholders have stressed the need to improve the quality of public schools in order to avoid exacerbating inequalities in the kingdom. According to the 2019 CSEFRS report, private school students benefit from more advantageous socio-economic backgrounds. For example, 91% of students in private institutions have at least one working parent, while just 35% of those in public school have this advantage. The report stressed the importance of reforms to improve the performance of public schools and ensure equal access to quality education for all students in Morocco – one of the main objectives of the kingdom’s 15-year education plan.
“Public and private schools must be in a complementary relationship,” Younes Slaoui, general manager of private school EFI Casablanca, told OBG. “To prevent the education system from magnifying inequalities, public schools must offer education quality standards equal to those in private schools,” he said.
One of the most widely debated provisions of the new education law stipulates that schools must enable students to achieve proficiency in two foreign languages – in addition to the kingdom’s two official languages, Arabic and Amazigh – by the time they complete qualifying secondary school. Although the law does not specify which two languages students must learn, French is widely used in business dealings and in government, Spanish is commonly spoken in northern Morocco and English has become increasingly popular. The law also states that scientific and technical subjects should be taught in foreign languages. Ultimately, the law’s foreign-language provisions aim to better prepare graduates for successful participation in Morocco’s increasingly globalised economy. The law states that work to implement these provisions must begin by 2025.
Furthermore, the new law continues to guarantee free education for students in public schools. Previous drafts of the law called on high-income families to pay school fees, but these provisions were not retained in the final draft. However, the law does provide for the creation of a fund to diversify the sources of funding for public education. The law states that the government, public institutions and contractors, and the private sector should contribute to the fund, but as of early 2020 no further specifications were provided.
The costs associated with public education are significantly lower than those in private schooling. According to a CSEFRS survey published in June 2019, households with children in private establishments spend approximately 12.7% more on the cost of education per child. The price difference is most notable at the primary level, where households spend up to 18% more. Unsurprisingly, a majority of households oppose the imposition of similar fees for public schools.
Despite ongoing challenges, Morocco’s public education sector has made significant strides in recent decades. The literacy rate for those 15 years and older rose from about 30% in 1980 to 74% in 2018, according to the World Bank. Moreover, enrolment in qualifying secondary tripled between 2005 (12%) and 2018 (36%), and lower-secondary enrolment increased from 50% to 80% over the same period.
According to the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, in the 2018/19 academic year there were 876,000 students attending public universities, 49,280 in private institutions and 35,450 in management-training organisations. That same year there were 396 higher-education establishments, made up of 129 public and 163 private schools, 73 management-training organisations and 31 establishments created in partnership with international institutes. Of Morocco’s 12 public universities, which manage the 129 public institutions, Ibn Zohr University in Agadir is the largest, with 126,000 students attending in 2018/19. This is followed by Hassan II University in Casablanca (115,662) and Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tétouan (107,352). Among those students attending public universities, around 424,260 study law, economics and social sciences, which remain the most popular fields. Notably, some 180,570 students study subjects related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The growth of the public university student population has significantly outpaced that of permanent instructors in recent years. In July 2019 Saïd Amzazi, the minister of national education, vocational training, higher education and scientific research, told local media that one of the biggest weaknesses in Morocco’s higher-education system is the challenge facing public universities when it comes to adequately supporting the growing student population. This is significant, as the majority of university students in the country attend public establishments. Between 2013/14 and 2018/19 the number of public university students increased by about 44% (607,145 to 876,005), while the number of permanent instructors increased by 17% (12,332 to 14,400). The rise in the public undergraduate population has also outpaced government spending on higher education and research, which grew from Dh8.1bn ($843.9m) in 2014 to Dh10bn ($1bn) in 2019, an increase of around 17%.
In response, the government has taken steps to increase the resources available to public university students. In April 2019 it released a decree directing the expansion of several universities, including Ibn Zohr University, which will soon have a new graduate teaching school and a humanities-focused college, and Abdelmalek Essaadi, which will have a new multidisciplinary college. In total, the decree provides for the creation of seven colleges and seven graduate schools across multiple universities. At a press conference following the announcement of the decree, government officials said the expansion of these universities is part of a broader strategy to bring university establishments closer to students.
At the same time, a number of new educational technologies are helping to expand the courses available to university students. In July 2019 the ministry launched the Morocco Digital University (Maroc Université Numérique, MUN), a platform that will allow students to take online classes, namely massive open online courses and some small private online courses. The platform is expected to offer programmes focusing on education and training, engineering sciences, IT, economics and finance, basic sciences, health, languages, management and entrepreneurship, the environment, humanities and law. MUN is operated by France Université Numérique, which currently operates a similar platform in France.
In January 2020 Amzazi announced that Morocco will adopt a four-year undergraduate system starting in the 2020/21 academic year. Students currently pursue three-year undergraduate degrees similar to those available in other French-speaking countries. According to Amzazi, students beginning their undergraduate education in September 2020 will be the first to pursue fouryear bachelor’s degrees under a system similar to those seen in English-speaking countries. The minister noted that current undergraduates will complete their degrees under the existing system. Explaining the motivation behind the change, Amzazi stated that the new system is expected to make it easier for Moroccan students to study abroad, learn soft skills and master foreign languages.
For the private sector, Morocco’s transition to a four-year degree system signals opportunity for collaboration with universities located in the US and elsewhere that operate under the same system. Amzazi announced the transition during the opening of a conference on the kingdom’s adoption of the bachelor’s degree, organised by the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the US Embassy in Morocco. Beyond serving as a venue to discuss the new undergraduate reform, the conference aimed to promote exchanges and cooperation between the US and Morocco in the field of higher education in general.
The primary provider of professional training in Morocco is the state-run Office for Professional Training and Employment Promotion (Office de la Formation Professionnelle et de la Promotion du Travail, OFPPT). Of 398,590 professional trainees enrolled at the start of the 2018/19 academic year, 301,830 attended OFPPT. The majority of the remaining students were enrolled in the country’s numerous private institutions. In 2018/19 the most popular fields for vocational and professional study were administration, management and business (93,600 trainees); metallurgic, mechanical and electric industries (80,380); construction and public works (49,650); and tourism and hospitality (34,750).
In April 2019 the government unveiled a project to establish professional training clusters (cités des métiers et des compétences, CMCs) throughout the kingdom. Each of Morocco’s 12 regions will host a CMC, which will be made up of a set of professional training centres tailored to meet the labour needs of the surrounding region. The project seeks to accommodate 34,000 trainees, divided into groups of 20. It will require approximately Dh3.6bn ($375m) in investment, to be financed by the national government, the OFPPT and the individual regions themselves. The first CMCs are planned to be built in the Oriental, SoussMassa and Laâyoune-Sakia El Hamra regions, and are expected to become operational in 2021. An additional five CMCs will open in 2022 in the Tanger-Tétouan-Al Hoceima, Rabat-Salé-Kenitra, Drâa-Tafilalet, Béni Mellal-Khénifra and Guelmim-Oued Noun regions. The final four CMCs are expected to open in 2023 in the regions of Fez-Meknes, Casablanca-Settat, Dakhla-Oued Ed Dahab and Marrakech-Safi.
The CMCs will provide training in a number of areas: agriculture; agro-industry; fishing; tourism and hospitality; health; crafts; industry; digital technologies, artificial intelligence; offshoring; and customer service. For example, the CMC for the Oriental region will aim to accommodate 2420 trainees and provide training in industry, digital technologies, agriculture and agro-industry, tourism and hospitality, and health. Training in digital technologies is expected to be available in all CMCs, while education focusing on artificial intelligence will only be accessible in the Rabat-Salé- Kénitra and Casablanca-Settat clusters.
Equipped with a new education law and an ambitious budget for 2020, Morocco is well positioned to reform its education system. Now that much of the kingdom’s 2030 education strategy has been successfully etched into law, the government must undertake the task of executing a number of strategic plans. Notable priorities include updating curricula as public universities transition to the bachelor’s degree system and as pre-baccalaureate schools prepare to expand the use of foreign languages in the classroom.
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