In Morocco, policymakers have recently implemented several groundbreaking initiatives aiming to create educational programs to empower rural women. Despite progress in this realm, there are still ongoing tensions within the Moroccan educational system. As a Moroccan who was educated in a multi-lingual system, I have experienced its flaws firsthand and recognize the need for its analysis. This study, therefore, assesses the quality of the Moroccan educational sector and the implications of a bifurcated educational system. The educational system is conducted in Fusha Arabic in public schools throughout secondary school and French predominantly at the university level. It is important to understand how this acts as an obstacle to significant educational attainment.
I base my analysis on data collected in fieldwork completed in seven Moroccan cities: Fez, Rabat, Casablanca, Ifrane, Meknes, Tetouan, and Tangier. Research methods incorporated both qualitative and quantitative approaches. This involved structured interviews with government officials and professors, focus groups with students, directors, as well as data collected from various ministries and organizations. These interviews were conducted with multiple NGOs, women’s rights groups, and grass-root organizations to assess ongoing initiatives aimed at women’s socio-economic empowerment. Policies regarding rural women`s empowerment were also examined. In addition, government officials were interviewed to investigate any potential disconnect between policies and performance.
Currently, one of Morocco’s most pressing national problems is its high illiteracy rate, particularly amongst women in the rural regions of the country. However, in the past several decades, the country has made progress in improving the literacy rate of the general population. In 1960, the estimated illiteracy rate along the Moroccan population was eighty-seven percent. Today, that number has, encouragingly, decreased to approximately fifty-six percent.  However, these numbers can be deceptive in the case of Moroccan women. According to the Director of the General Secretariat of Morocco, unofficial sources show that sixty-five to seventy percent of all Moroccan women are illiterate.  As women comprise fifty-six percent of the total population of Morocco, this is not a negligible statistic.  Furthermore, the illiteracy rate is reported to be much higher amongst the female population in rural Morocco, with government officials and all interviewees estimating an astronomical ninety percent.  These extremely high illiteracy rates hinder the empowerment of these women.
Without an adequate education, rural women cannot fully comprehend their own rights or engage actively socially, politically, or economically. From reforms and policies passed through legislation within the national government to the regional and local efforts made by NGOs and other small organizations, women’s empowerment has seen unprecedented progress in Morocco.
By collaborating with some NGOs, building schools, adding teachers, requiring girls to attend schools, and requiring a mandatory education for illiterate adults, the government of Morocco has recognized the crippling problem of illiteracy within the country, and various reforms, policies, and objectives have been implemented to combat this problem.
King Mohammed VI adopted the INDH in 2005 with the objective of improving the living conditions of citizens. He also implemented a new reform to complement existing programs; known as the National Education and Training Charter (CNEF), which declared 2000-2009 the decade for education and training. The charter was passed as a reform act in order to create positive changes that could improve education quality and adapt the educational system to the needs of the Moroccan economy. Furthermore, this new reform reviewed educational methods in order to represent women as equal citizens. The charter officially requires men and women in both urban and rural areas to attend school through the sixth grade.
The CNEF aimed at establishing practical strategies to promote positive social attitudes and policies towards women through media and outreach.  In addition, the Bold Education Emergency Plan reform was assessed in January 2009 to bridge the gap between the acceleration of educational reform and the effective use of resources, covering the period 2009-2012 and represented a vital shift in policy. 
Previously, Morocco followed the French educational system but failed to adapt it to Moroccan cultural and social standards. For any educational system in Morocco to be effective, it must be in accordance with the cultural and social standards of the country while addressing the needs of the Moroccan people. In 1957, the Ministry of Education, led by Mohamed El Fassi, decided to Arabize primary and secondary education. The Istiqlal Party supported this process of Arabization as a necessary step to preserve the cultural identity of Morocco.  Since 1956, cultural and linguistic conflicts have impeded the educational system.8 While the presence and use of the French language is an understandable linguistic and cultural condition created by France’s colonial influence on Moroccan history, the fundamental problem of having multiple languages of instruction in the educational system is a result of a divide between different socioeconomic and cultural groups in Moroccan society. It is the privileged and more well to do section of society who are given the opportunity to the foreign languages, while the lesser privileged do not receive this advantage.
French at the university level is mostly benefiting students in the middle and upper socioeconomic levels. If students of a lower socioeconomic status manage to work hard enough to get into a Moroccan university, are they on even ground with other “privileged” students who may have had private French language instruction prior to university? Isn’t this approach establishing a greater socioeconomic divide by benefiting upper class students in the university level and making it more difficult for lower classes to attain socioeconomic mobility?
In order to explain the existing systems, from middle school, private school students are taught in French and transition to Arabic in high school. Public schools teach Arabic throughout. In university level, classes are taught only in French. Therefore, most students experience difficulty with this abrupt transition.
The Moroccan government has sought to take a positive step with the CNEF in answering the issue of a misplaced French educational system in a predominantly Arab nation. However, the majority of students still graduate from high school with fluency and academic experience in Arabic only, especially in public schools.
Currently in Morocco, most universities follow the French educational model, with only one exception opting for an American-based English system. Neither arrangement is specifically linguistically accessible to students, particularly rural, publicly educated students. It is argued that the schools modeled on the French system have proven ineffective in Morocco in creating an environment that only favors a privileged social class, the European community and middle and upper class Moroccans.  The privileged class does not have to pursue academics out of a desperation to make financial ends meet as come from a position of economic security which allows them the luxuries of intellectualism, academia which they have the opportunity to shape their learning into a career of their preference and choice. On the other hand, the lower classes can struggle in such a system because a large proportion of the students who manage to enter universities also have additional responsibilities outside of school which they cannot discard, as their outside work is mostly done to support their family’s struggling financial situation. These students complain of having too many responsibilities and cannot focus solely on advancing their education.
Therefore, can we debate that the French system is only benefiting the middle and upper class?
The French system generally requires students to be in the classroom approximately thirty hours a week and also demands they dedicate a considerable portion of their time to homework outside of class. The quantity of homework assigned is often difficult given the time constraints the students have, as they are in the classroom on a full-time basis. In addition, the style of learning in the Moroccan version of the French system is largely based on rote memorization which discourages creativity and independent thinking, as students are solely focused on regurgitating facts and knowledge in order to attain passing exam scores.
Arabic is the fundamental language of instruction in the primary and secondary level. My study proposes the following suggestion: Should it not be natural to utilize Arabic in the university level as a way of providing a sense of continuity and thereby security for the students who get thrown off with the sudden change of language? French will remain to be the dominant language in Moroccan culture as most of society uses it for verbal and written exchange. This article does not argue that the French language should lose its prominence on the societal level, but should potentially be offered as an option at the educational university level, besides other languages, rather than having classes in just the French language.
While the Moroccan government has taken steps to modify education to suit the needs of the people, the bifurcated nature of the educational system has proven a major systemic hurdle to further progress. In public schools throughout Morocco, Arabic is used as the primary language through the secondary level. From the university level onwards, however, French is used as the dominant language in academia. This practice presents a frustrating dilemma for Moroccan students, and even more so for the poorer women in rural Morocco. The change in language to which Moroccan students must adjust in order to advance from one educational level to another is an unnecessary and counterproductive hurdle. While the sample size of students interviewed was small, their thoughts appear to represent the frustrations of many Moroccan students towards this divided and ineffective system. An Akhawayn graduate student indicates that the education system is a complete “mess” and the differences in technical language between French and Arabic make it confusing and challenging for students. Their time is consumed by adjusting to the unnecessary transition from one language to another when they could otherwise be spending this time focusing on their studies.  Meanwhile, another university student at Akhawayn suggests that Moroccans focus on their own language of Arabic and have the French language as an option as opposed to a requirement in academics.  At the University of Rabat, another professor declares that implementing the French system while having only had Arabic schooling before is not effective. 
Because students in the more highly educated urban centers struggle to adapt to changing linguistic environments, it is only logical that poorly educated women in rural Morocco will only struggle more. Rural women have less exposure to the French language and also do not have the privileges of urban students. The lack of continuous streams in language through the Moroccan educational system makes it difficult for Moroccans to attain an education when they must overcome such linguistic hurdles.
To further complicate matters, the 2011 Constitution in Morocco recognized Tamazight as the second official language of the country. As many of the Tamazight speakers are from rural areas, the introduction of the largely oral Tamazight language into mainstream Moroccan society is still limited. This presents another challenge on how and to what extent Tamazight will be incorporated into the educational system. The new government reforms help rural women gain better access to education, yet in order for these women to excel in that education and become active citizens in society, the primary language of instruction in the academic world must be continuous throughout the educational system, whether in French, Arabic, or English. Other institutional hurdles must also be eliminated to pave the way for rural women and other Moroccans to have easier access to an education. Moroccan students in their senior year of high school are currently required to take a baccalaureate exam in order to continue to the university level in Morocco. Performance on this exam is supposedly meant to dictate to which particular universities a student has access. However, there is a consensus between interviewed students and professors that this exam is unnecessary, as it does not guarantee admission to the top universities in Morocco, even with competitive scores. Furthermore, the baccalaureate exam does not accurately reflect students’ intelligence or their potential to succeed, and thus cannot give universities a reliable metric by which to judge students for admissions.
It should be recognized that the knowledge of the French language does in fact benefit working Moroccans, at a familial or societal level, given France’s colonial influence on Moroccan society. This language is only dominant in select countries across the world. However, it is an undeniable fact that English has established itself as a universal language. Business, academia, and resources on the Internet are predominantly in English. English is such an important language to know in the professional and academic world, as the current global situation is very “Americentric.” The world is rapidly globalizing, and many countries are trying to emulate things in America. One major factor is the educational system, which is widely recognized as one of the best in the world. In order for Moroccan students to look for higher education and professional attainment, knowing English is important while they absolutely need to be adept problem solvers and critical thinkers, two skills that are highly valued in an American-like academic and professional world. These skills can be learned in an American educational system, as they are emphasized in American-system schools from the day a student starts attending school. With a mastery of both the Arabic and English languages as more universities adopt an alternative to study English, Moroccan students will benefit with more opportunities to enter a rapidly globalizing world where characteristics such as freethinking is valued, something the American based system embraces.
The American system will be less elitist than how I described the French system, mainly because of the number of scholarships and financial aid American universities provide to qualified students who are unable to afford a private university education in Morocco or abroad. In an economically struggling nation such as Morocco, such a benefit is vital for students who possess the intelligence and work ethic to excel at the higher level but do not enjoy the means to pay for their education. Students are able to get Fulbright scholarships to come to the best universities in the United States, and often come back to Morocco to improve their country economically. The system instituted is a positive example of how a different educational system can and should be instituted across Morocco to engage all social classes. Thus, the benefits that will come with literacy across all levels can only be favorable.
Needless to say, however, that in spite of the challenges that the Moroccan government still faces within the educational system, it is taking promising steps to come to the support of women’s rights and empowerment, and is not alone in its efforts. In fact, non-profit organizations are key allies in the fight for women’s empowerment through education.
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10.Akhawayn University, Graduate Student. Personal Interview. June 28, 2013.
11. Akhawayn University, Student. Personal Interview. June 28, 2013.
12. University of Rabat, Professor. Personal Interview. July 3, 2013.