Saturday, March 02, 2019

Language Wars: French Versus English in Moroccan Schools

Juggling Tamazight, Arabic, Darija, and French, Morocco continues to debate languages as a hot topic among political parties, the education sector, and activists. But the most fierce debates are over the place of English in education 
Students learning English in Fez

The continued dominance of French as a foreign language in Morocco angers many Moroccans, who believe that English, if not becoming the dominant language, should at least be on equal footing with French.

Although Morocco’s Constitution recognises only two languages—standard Arabic and Tamazight (Berber)—in daily life a majority of Moroccans speak Darija, the distinct Moroccan dialect of Arabic.  However, while Morocco has a history of using French in official communication, there is  an increasing interest in using English in educational instruction.

When France established a protectorate in Morocco in 1912 after the signing of the Treaty of Fez, the coloniser imposed French on the Moroccan education system.

Since then, French, along with Arabic, have been the two languages used most in business, diplomacy, and government.

In January, Morocco’s Minister of Education, Said Amzazi said English could not replace French as a language of instruction for at least another 10 years. His comments angered some Moroccans who believe the government should shift its focus towards English with more speed.

The minister argued that Morocco does not have qualified teachers in English to ensure the success of replacing French. Amzazi, however, did acknowledge that there are more science books available in English than in French.

The official’s statement received a counter response from former minister of finance Niar Baraka, who is also the secretary-general of the opposition Al Istiqlal Party, who during an event in Tetouan, in February, said that teaching science in French is “wrong and a crime against students and against Morocco.”

 “Students now cannot send you a text message in Arabic, they choose Latin letters to message people, but in Darija” -- Moroccan author Abderrahim Elalam

After independence in 1956, activists called for an end to French teaching and for the Moroccan education system to be entirely Arabised.

The country, however, failed to fulfil this objective because there were not enough professors and teachers of Arabic in Morocco. Instead, Morocco hired teachers from other Arab countries, including Syria and Sudan.

In 1970, Baraka’s Al Istiqlal opposition party campaigned on the urgent need to Arabise the educational system.

“When students reach the baccalaureate, they have [mastered only] primary levels in French. How can we allow a student who doesn’t know the simplest rules of French to become a professor after graduation?” Baraka asked.

Baraka also criticised the low level of Arabic understood by Moroccan students.

Standard Arabic has been used in official government meetings since Moroccan independence in 1956. But most Moroccans use Darija to communicate, even in formal settings, such as classrooms and Parliament.

The well-known Moroccan researcher Ahmed Assid reacted strongly to Baraka’s statements against French.

Assid told Morocco World News that Baraka was exaggerating and hypocritical.

“We should put an end to the political hypocrisy in our country. The leaders who talk about [the dominance of French] enrol their children in French cultural missions. They don’t teach them the Arabic language,” Assid claimed. He added that if French is a “crime, then they have to stop committing crimes against their children.”

Assid argued that Arabisation had “failed miserably” and should be ended. He also called for more openness to French for the sake of achieving a higher quality of education.

According to Baraka, Arabisation is not to blame for the failure of Moroccan schools.

“It is wrong to consider the Arabic language responsible for the failure of education in our country,” Baraka said. He emphasised that the failure has other causes like overcrowding and lack of administrative and educational frameworks.

In response to a question about students’ poor Arabic skills despite Arabisation, Baraka said that Arabisation “happened very quickly, and the teachers were not well trained to perform their task as required.”

Moroccan author Abderrahim Elalam criticised the low quality of Arabic teaching in Morocco.

Elalam told Morocco World News that now even in universities, students struggle to write a correct sentence in Arabic. “Students now cannot send you a text message in Arabic, they choose Latin letters to message people but in Darija,” Elalam lamented.

“In the past, as scholars, we were discussing the content of Ph.D. theses, but now we are discussing how students write their thesis and the language used,” he added.

“Even Darija nowadays is lost, most of the people are not able to speak in a classy Darija. We have a real problem in all languages: French, Arabic and English.”

Elalam also said that English is emerging, especially in language centres and Moroccan universities. Moroccan universities offer three majors in English: Media and cultural studies, literature, and linguistics.

English, however, is not offered in state medical schools or engineering schools, although it is offered in some private schools. In the labor market, most companies and public institutions require prospective employees to speak French.

Some “elite” Moroccans also prefer to speak in French in both formal and informal situations.

At the same time, others see English as the language of globalisation and believe it should be given preference over French in Morocco.

Both Assid and Elalam agreed with the education minister that if Morocco shifts its foreign language focus from French to English, it would take time.

The scholars said that it would be “difficult” for Morocco to shift towards English because France is considered one of Morocco’s most important allies.

They noted that language is linked to politics, emphasising that France supports Morocco’s territorial integrity and several other Moroccan causes.

Is Morocco’s second language French or Tamazight?

The education ministry rubbed activists the wrong way when it referred to French as a second language in Morocco. Activists have heavily criticised the government and its leader, Saad Eddine El Othmani, for disfavouring Tamazight (Berber).

Tamazight is spoken by 30-40 million Amazigh (Berber) people, the majority of whom live in Morocco and Algeria.

After independence, Moroccan activists called on the government to include Tamazight in the education system. The 2011 Constitution answered the call, making Tamazight an official language alongside standard Arabic.

Al Istiqlal party members have been some of those saying Arabic and Tamazight should be obligatory languages used in public institutions and daily life.

According to Assid, their call is in line with the Constitution, and unlike in the past, the party is now calling for more than just Arabisation.

Al Istiqlal is “now correcting its first position and is acknowledging the Amazigh language as an official language.”

Assid said the party “calls for the sole usage of Arabic and Amazigh, but it is against foreign languages,” referring to French.

Languages: A global question

The Moroccan government is not the only cabinet to face pressure regarding the use of languages in education. The Netherlands has five official languages: Dutch, Papiamento, Yiddish, English, and Frisian. Other popular languages among the Netherlands’ Muslim population are Arabic and Turkish.

The Dutch government is also tackling concerns over the widespread use of English crowding out Dutch inside universities in the Netherlands.

The BBC wrote in October 2018 that 60 percent of the master’s programs offered at Utrecht University are in English.

“At the highest honours level, virtually no courses are taught in Dutch.”

It remains to be seen whether the Moroccan government will manage to balance its official languages of Arabic and Tamazight with its foreign options of French and English inside education institutions.

It is interesting to note that while Morocco hesitates over the question of English, demand for the language is starting to be recognised in other countries. Omar Halli, the president of Morocco’s Ibn Zohr University, points out that “Morocco has concluded three partnerships in the past with Malaya, Putra, and Sarawak universities that cover a range of majors, from business and Managing, to Finance, to Islamic Studies.”

“We also receive university professors, especially those specialising in Islamic finance who have a high command of both English and Arabic. And we are interested in receiving more.”

He also suggested that the Malaysian ministry receive more Moroccans and offer them extensive English language courses.


1 comment:

French Truly said...

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French Language Learning