Basic education indicators such as school attendance and literacy rates are rising in Morocco, particularly for higher education, where attendance has rapidly accelerated in recent times and is set to rise further as the government expands eligibility. The authorities are stepping up investment in the sector, with plans for increased spending, better infrastructure and the establishment of universal preschool in the works. However, the sector continues to face a range of challenges, including student retention and teaching quality.
Meanwhile, the private education segment is expanding as members of Morocco’s growing middle class increasingly place their children in such schools to benefit from international instruction, among other factors regarded as prestigious. The regulatory authorities, however, have sometimes been critical of standards in the segment.
The education sector is regulated by the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research, which also operates state educational facilities. Provision begins with pre-primary education, which lasts for two years and is not currently compulsory, although this is set to change under a new law. Primary education is for a period of six years, covering ages six to 11, and is mandatory. Secondary education is split into two stages: pupils first attend lower secondary, called collegial school, which lasts for three years and is also mandatory, followed by an optional further three years in upper – known as qualifying – secondary school, with the choice to follow a general or technical track. Instruction is provided for free through state schools, although this is also expected to change in some instances under the new sector framework law.
In the 2017/18 academic year 7.03m Moroccan children attended school, of which 997,369 – or approximately 14% of the total – attended private facilities, according to ministry figures. The total number of schools in the kingdom stood at 16,286, including 5380 (33%) private schools. Enrolment in private schools is rising due to a burgeoning middle class and high levels of social prestige associated with the instruction, as well as the fact that the majority offer classes in French, which is the language of many university courses and is commonly used in business dealings.
Although certain education metrics have been improving, the sector continues to struggle in other areas. For instance, Morocco ranked 47th out of 49 countries in the fourth-grade maths category of the most recent iteration of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, from 2015. The country placed 37th out of 39 for eighth-grade maths, 46th out of 47 for fourth-grade science and 36th out of 39 for eighth-grade science. In its 2016/17 annual report, issued in August 2018, the kingdom’s Court of Auditors pointed to numerous problems in Moroccan schools that are impacting learning outcomes, including infrastructure deficiencies and a shortage of teachers that meant some classrooms were left unused. The report also noted high levels of teacher absenteeism and a lack of inspector supervision of instructors. It singled out the private sector, in particular, for overcrowding and a failure to provide some facilities that schools are required to under law, such as sports fields.
In an effort to improve outcomes, the authorities have been working on a new education framework law, spurred by a call from King Mohammed VI in early 2016. The law was adopted by the government in August 2018 and was being debated in a parliamentary committee on education in early 2019. The committee’s version of the document will then be put to the Parliament for approval. Changes under the legislation include the introduction of means-based financial charges for education provision. This is expected to first be implemented in the higher education segment, with fees for secondary school coming after, although who will pay and how much remains unclear.
The law will also extend the range of compulsory school attendance to cover children from four years of age to 16 – currently six to 15 – effectively introducing mandatory universal preschool. The ministry is rolling out a 10-year plan running from 2018 to generalise this level of education, targeting 100% attendance by 2028. As a benchmark, in 2017 and 2018 around 43% of children aged four and five were enrolled in preschool. The government has said that achieving universal preschool attendance requires an annual budget of Dh3bn (€269.8m), and optional preschool education for children of the age of three will also gradually be rolled out.
Another change under the new law will be the creation of a professional training track for college – the mandatory period of secondary schooling – in a bid to further boost the links between educational instruction and the job market, thus improving students’ employment outcomes.
In addition to the new law, the government is following 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. In May 2018 Saïd Amzazi, the minister of national education, vocational training, higher education and scientific research, announced details of a shorter three-year national education plan to run through the 2021/22 academic year. The initiative includes building 87 new schools, 37 of which will be in rural areas; adding 1984 new classrooms to existing schools; reducing class sizes at each level, such as a maximum of 30 students per class for the first two years of primary school; and recruiting 35,000 new teachers on a contract basis, in addition to the 20,000 already recruited in 2018. However, the hiring of such contract teachers who do not complete standard teacher training has faced criticism.
The plan also calls for revising secondary school curricula, including introducing the International Baccalaureate programme for advanced students.
A particular point of focus in educational planning has been which language to use in instruction and in what areas. The new framework law currently under debate declares Arabic – meaning Modern Standard Arabic, or fusha – the language of instruction, but simultaneously requires that students learn Amazigh, a standardised Berber language, as three Berber languages are spoken in Morocco. A related provision under the draft law looks to increase the use of foreign languages such as French in some scientific and technical subjects, but this has proven controversial, facing opposition from the Justice and Development Party, which heads the ruling coalition. In the past there have been proposals to teach darija in school, the form of Arabic spoken colloquially by Moroccans, or even to use it as a language of instruction, but the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research rejected these in a report issued in 2015.
The budget for the Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training, Higher Education and Scientific Research was Dh59.3bn (€5.3bn) in 2018, up from Dh54.4bn (€4.9bn) the previous year, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. The 2018 figure was equivalent to 22.4% of total government spending – up on 21.6% in 2017 and higher than dedicated sector spending of 21% in 2013 and an average of 21.9% in 2007-12.
In keeping with the government’s characterisation of the 2019 budget as a “social budget” – the draft of which was published in October 2018 – education spending is set to rise by 4.6% to a total of Dh62bn (€5.6bn). The document was made public after Throne Day and Revolution Day speeches were given by King Mohammed VI earlier in the year calling for better education outcomes. The spend should be roughly equal to 5.3% of GDP at current prices, based on the October 2018 estimate from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook database.
The 2019 allocation includes a spending increase of Dh1.54bn (€138.5m) for the Tayssir ( Facilitation) programme, which seeks to keep children in school by providing families with cash incentives, to a total of Dh2.17bn (€195.2m). The budget also boosts funding for primary education to Dh1.35bn (€121.4m), with plans to expand facilities to accommodate another 100,000 children.
Approximately 4.32m pupils were enrolled in primary education in the 2017/18 academic year, according to government figures, up from just over 4m in 2012/13. Around 83% of the total were enrolled in state primary schools, with this proportion gradually falling in favour of private institutions; an average of 89.2% of students attended public primary schools between 2007 and 2012. Preschool attendees numbered 699,265 in 2017/18.
Net primary school enrolment stood at 96.8% in 2017, according to the World Bank. The figure was up slightly on the immediately preceding years, but is a significant improvement on the 55% net enrolment rate in 1990, pointing to considerable long-term progress in education provision. This has helped give rise to major improvements in education outcomes; for example, the literacy rate of those aged 15 to 24 rose from 70.9% in 2004 to 89% in 2014, according to the “Social Indicators Morocco 2013-14” report, published by the High Commission for Planning in 2016. This suggests that universal literacy, though still far from achieved – standing at 64% in 2014 – is likely to be reached as the country’s population ages.
The number of primary school teachers stood at 150,198 in 2017 and has been on a downward trend since 2013 The number of primary schools, meanwhile, stood at 10,446 in the 2016/17 academic year, according to the most recent information from the ministry, of which 7667 were public institutions and 2779 were private. Private primary schools numbered 2592 during the previous academic year, pointing to rapid expansion of this segment.
The number of pupils in both phases of secondary education stood at 2.85m in 2017, according to the World Bank. The figure has been steadily rising in recent times, growing from 1.54m at the start of the century, as more pupils continue into the optional second half of secondary instruction. While net secondary school enrolment remains substantially lower than at the primary level, at 63.3% in 2017, it is also following a positive trend, up over 20 percentage points from 42.3% in 2006. Furthermore, secondary enrolment rates are identical for boys and girls, and the number of teachers at this level stood at 140,474 in 2017.
Breaking attendance down by level, there were 1.69m students in the lower-secondary system in the 2017/18 school year, of which 90.2% were enrolled in public institutions. As in the primary system, this percentage has been falling – specifically, from 94.2% in 2007-12 – as private education becomes increasingly popular. While the entirety of the school system suffers from significant dropout rates, the problem is particularly acute in the lower-secondary segment, where the rate stands at around 12% despite its mandatory nature. The government is currently expanding initiatives to try to keep children in compulsory schooling, including with the Tayssir programme.
There were 1.01m students taking classes in the optional upper-secondary system, 90.5% of whom were enrolled in public schools. The figure is up from an average of just under 850,000 between 2007 and 2012. Students in the lower collegial system can choose among different tracks to study; the most popular track for public school students in their final year is sciences, mainly life and earth sciences, and physics. These were studied by 153,698 students out of a total of 300,198 in 2017, followed by humanities, with 124,229, and technology, which had 20,009.
Gross enrolment in tertiary education is rising particularly rapidly, from 11.9% in 2007 to 33.8% in 2017, per World Bank figures. This has seen the country catch up with Tunisia, which had higher tertiary enrolment rates starting from the mid-1990s, and narrow the gap with Algeria, where the rate stood at 47.7% in 2017. Enrolment at this level may grow even faster after the ministry abolished a rule in September 2018 that only allowed students who had received their baccalaureate (upper-secondary school qualification) within the previous two years to enrol in university. This effectively prevented older baccalaureate-holders who had not immediately enrolled in university from attending. The change followed a social media campaign calling for a repeal of the regulation.
Per ministry figures, there were 822,191 students enrolled in the higher education system in the 2017/18 school year, exclusive of training institutes – some 240% more than the 339,878 average between 2007 and 2012. According to more detailed data on the previous academic year in the “Statistical Directory of Morocco 2017”, there were 810,723 students in the public higher education system, 14.5% more than in 2014/15. Of the students in the public sector in 2016/17, 781,505 were enrolled in universities, 21,916 in institutes and 7302 in teacher training schools. For those students attending university, the most popular subjects were legal, economic and social sciences, humanities and sciences.
Of 12 public universities in the kingdom, Ibn Zohr University in Agadir is the largest, with 114,116 students attending in 2016/17. Second is Hassan II University in Casablanca (102,911), followed by Mohammed Ben Abdellah University in Fez (90,291). There were 43,616 students studying in private higher education facilities in the 2016/17 academic year, including 7032 in universities, 6030 in public-private partnership-based universities and 28,493 in other private entities, such as business schools. A growing number of private higher education facilities have opened since the turn of the century, such as the Université Internationale de Casablanca, inaugurated in 2010. That year also saw the creation of a public-private partnership institution, the Université Internationale de Rabat.
The government is becoming more involved in private education, one avenue being via certification programmes. “The government initiative to certify private schools is positive, but the specifications tend to promote those located in big cities like Casablanca and Rabat, where all the largest schools are based,” Ilham Skalli Housseini, general manager of HEC Maroc, a private business school in Rabat, told OBG. “Only schools of a certain size can get certified, which in the long term could result in market concentration.” In 2016/17, 7339 primary, 3492 lower-secondary and 3173 upper-secondary trainee teachers were enrolled at instructor training centres. Government plans to recruit and train 200,000 new teachers by 2030 is set to go handin-hand with investment in building new schools and initiatives to retain students in the education system. To improve the quality of instruction, officials also plan to replace the current teacher-training framework. At present, trainees undertake courses for one or two years, depending on whether they wish to teach at primary or secondary schools. This will be extended to require five years of training, essentially equivalent to a university degree.
The primary provider of professional training is the state-run National Office for Professional Training and Promotion of Work. Of 380,971 professional trainees in the kingdom in 2017, 313,687 were enrolled at the institution. Most of the remaining students in the segment are enrolled at private training institutions. The most popular fields for vocational and professional study include administration, management and business, with 99,154 trainees studying in the 2016/17 academic year; metallurgic, mechanical and electric industries (90,655); construction and public works (54,440); and tourism and hospitality (34,827).
While a popular choice for some, the segment faces challenges. Graduates of the National Office have above-average rates of unemployment, and businesses in the kingdom have raised concerns that some of the courses do not properly equip trainees with in-demand labour market skills. As a result, in October 2018 King Mohammed VI called for the government to prepare a new roadmap for the development of the professional training segment. Business representative body the General Federation of Moroccan Employers suggested that the plan include changes for the greater involvement of employers, the establishment of a national observatory to provide up-to-date data on which skills are needed by employers and a greater focus on short, targeted courses. “A common tool kit based on skills per profession should be developed at universities, and economic actors should cooperate with universities to build training programs based on this tool kit,” Ahmed Nejmeddine, president of Université Hassan 1 de Settat, told OBG.
Digital methods are also gaining ground. “In the past couple years we have seen more and more Moroccan companies adopting e-learning. I believe the kingdom is ready to embrace and flourish from its widespread adoption,” Oussama Esmili, managing director of Ideo Factory, told OBG.
Building on long-term advances in basic sector indicators such as near-universal youth literacy, education outcomes and the quality of provision appear set for further improvement due to a renewed focus on teacher recruitment and training, rising rates of secondary school and university attendance, and the promotion of preschool. The uptake of private education also appears likely to continue along its current growth trajectory, as the kingdom’s economy expands and income levels rise.
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