Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why Morocco Needs to Switch from French to English - Opinion

Back in March 2014, Morocco's Minister of Education, Lahcen Daoudi, came out strongly in favour of promoting English instead of French as the Kingdom's second language. Now other influential voices are backing his call

Adopting French as a second language has long been acknowledged as a major problem for Moroccan education, and the Education Minister's statement, "French is no longer valid, English is the solution" was greeted warmly by educators. This is good news not only for education, but also for tourism which has suffered from not adopting English. Now Mohammed Belkhayat, the President of HMEMSA (Home of Moroccan Educators & Moroccan Students in America), has added his voice, saying, in an open letter to Morocco's Ministers of Education, "French is obsolete".

According to Mohamed Belkhayat, writing for Morocco World News, African Francophonie is on its way out. Rwanda made the shift to English official in 2009, Gabon made a similar announcement in 2012 and Senegal made its intention known in 2013. While Morocco is dithering and debating the different languages to teach, countries around the world are taking bold positions to ensure the competitive future of their institutions and in particular their education systems. Italy has announced English as their language of higher learning in respected universities. The Gulf States are embracing English more and more throughout their educational cycle. After all, education is about preparing our youth for a competitive future in a world that is increasingly global. To such an end, English should be taught as a critical skill for today and tomorrow.

Mohammed Belkhayat recently attended a meeting in Rabat for Moroccans living abroad. The objective was to share success stories of the Moroccan diaspora. Here is an extract of what he had to say:

There were associations from the U.S., Germany, Spain, Belgium, France, The UAE and others. Although most of the people there spoke English because they were in technical and medical fields, the meeting was conducted entirely in French. Minister of Higher Education Mr Daoudi was also present, and although he announced his intentions for English in higher education last May of 2014, there was not a word of English in the whole meeting. It is true that Morocco has a crucial French heritage and its current socioeconomic survival may appear to depend on it, but we have to understand that the world is progressing with English, not French.

The Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Moroccans Abroad, out of all ministries, should understand this the best. In order to engage and learn from competencies around the world to the greatest extent, English should be at least on the agenda for meetings organised by the ministry of Moroccans living abroad. Otherwise, one is limited to a narrow French narrative. A narrative which is no longer influential nor dominant in the world.

Here are some mind-boggling statistics. Over 55% of internet websites are in English while just 4% are in French, and less than 1% are in Arabic. Moroccan students are indirectly deprived from over 50% of human knowledge on the internet even if they have access to the internet and smart phones. At this rate, they can never truly compete in a more and more global world. Almost 50% of scholarly journals are in English, while less than 5% are in French. New knowledge is being published mostly in English not in French. Why are we delaying our educational system from the inevitable? English is the key to the vast knowledge made available to the world today– not French.

French may be the language of diplomacy and prestige–not international commerce, innovation, and information technology. Show me one French computer language, just one successful French computer programming language. Almost all of them are in English: C, C++, Java, Fortran, Linux, and the rest. These are the languages that physically run the infrastructure computers of the world and hence all of the related human activity ranging from cell phones to satellites to oil and gas pumps to the banking system and stock exchange.

The top 50 engineering and technology schools in the world do not include a single French university. Ecole Polytechnique of France comes at number 57! The top five are all from the U.S., as well as 33 of the top 100 universities. The Top U.S. universities have established free courses and even entire programs online on a massive scale all in English while French Universities are still debating whether to teach in English. Which world is Morocco living in? I believe it is a bubble, a French one that may pop soon because it cannot and will not make Morocco as competitive as it should be in the world. No disrespect to the French. Even the French know this and most of their large corporations operate in English.

By delaying English, we are holding back Moroccan engineers, entrepreneurs, and especially communication and computer engineers who are critical to the information age we are living in. We are asking them to swim in the ocean with one hand tied behind their backs. Not only are the industrial computers programmed in English, but also all the gaming computers, a multibillion dollar industry not to be neglected, which may actually produce tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.

Dear Minister, this is the time to be bold, in order to prepare the nation for the jobs of the future, English should be taught not just at private schools and elite schools but aggressively at all public schools and from an early age. Morocco cannot afford to lag any further on this issue. Those with English proficiency today have access to entire high school curriculums for free online from the best institutions in the world. They also have access to literally millions of excellent free books online that can be downloaded and read at leisure.

English opens the doors wide open for E-learning and hence reduces the cost of education not increases it. Teach French to a Moroccan child today and you may have fed him for one day and maybe years but teach him English and he may feed himself and others for a lifetime. This is the reality we live in, English is an indispensable tool in order to interact effectively with the rest of the world and to prepare tomorrow’s leaders not tomorrow’s followers.

First published by Morocco World News and republished with permission.

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