Morocco’s Parliament has passed the proposed Education bill, Law 51.17 that stipulates the use of French as a language of instruction for scientific and technical subjects in Moroccan schools. The adoption of the law came a week after the Moroccan parliamentary commission for teaching, culture, and communication approved the framework law.
In addition to the implementation of foreign languages in technical and scientific classes, the law also requires Tamazight (Berber) to be taught in all Moroccan schools.
The House of Representatives passed the draft law with 241 MPs voting in favor and four members from different political parties voting against it. The law is expected to come into effect after approval at the House of Councillors.
Omar Balafrej and Mustapha Chennaoui, members of the Federation of Democratic Left (FGD) together with Mohamed El Othmani and El Mokrie Abouzayd El Idrissi from the Group and Justice Development Party (PJD) were among the four MPs who voted against the law. El Mokrie Abouzayd El Idrissi resigned following adoption of the controversial bill.
Education Bill Faces Opposition
Even ahead of the adoption of the law, a controversy ensued among political parties and politicians to emphasize the need to preserve official languages in Morocco, in accordance with the constitution. The official languages being Arabic and Tamazight (Berber).
The former head of government secretary-general of PJD, Abdelilah Benkirane, was among the politicians who vehemently defended the Arabic language. Benkirane believes that the new law undermines both the Moroccan constitution and the official language in Morocco. Despite the law stipulating that Arabic remains the official language of the state, Benkirane insists that the law violates the status of Arabic. He believes that the French language is an “unknown” language to Moroccan students.
According to him, there is bound to be a significant failure in the education system as the language might be a burden for some students at scientific and technical classes. He is no stranger to controversy and has repeatedly condemned the Minister of Education, Said Amzazi, for his various education proposals.
In March, he stated:
If higher education in a foreign language is necessary one day, there is a better language for it than French. There is no evidence that teaching science in Arabic has caused the failure of the education system."
In addition to Benkirane, Al Istiqlal Party and The National Coalition for the Arabic Language also opposed the framework law when the government reviewed the draft. The coalition described the law as a crime and a violation of the Moroccan constitution, which establishes Arabic and Tamazight as Morocco’s official languages.
The head of the coalition, Fouad Bou Ali, said in April that excluding the Arabic language from Moroccan schools will “reap failures and setbacks experienced by the public school.”
French or English?
While Morocco is shifting into more French, Algeria is now evaluating the idea of replacing French with English in universities.
Algerian Minister of High Education Tayeb Bouzid ordered all heads of university institutions on July 21 to replace French with the English language. Observe Algerie reported that the “French language is gradually banned from universities’ administration". The news outlet added that the French language is “less and less used in the management of universities.”
For some, English is an “international” language which will provide students with a competitive advantage.
According to Samir Benmakhlouf, CEO of London Academy Casablanca:
English is becoming more and more essential in higher education schools and universities. The mastery of this language is crucial as the majority of international conferences and scientific journals are in English. In the job market, it is the linguistic dimension that makes the difference between two otherwise equal candidates."
The debate about the dominance of French as a foreign language in Morocco resonates with that of many other scholars in Africa who have always argued against adoption of western and or foreign languages at the expense of local ones. Renowned Kenyan Scholar Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o has been a strong advocate for the recognition of a country's local and indigenous languages in the same manner that foreign languages are upheld.
Professor Thiong'o is infamous for questioning why even many years post-independence, Africans are still using the coloniser's language. Is it a case of self-hate or an imprisoned mind?
Despite the controversy surrounding the Education Law, the Minister of Education Amzazi hailed the approval of the legal framework was a “historic moment.” Given the fact that Moroccan teachers have taught sciences and technical subjects in Arabic, it remains to be seen whether teachers will receive any specific training to meet the new education standards.
Header Image Credit: Margot Eliason, Kawtar Ennaji