The passionate controversy over Noureddine Ayouche’s proposal to replace fuṣḥā with the Moroccan vernaculars (especially Moroccan Arabic, dārija) as languages of instruction in pre-school and early primary school classes indicates that questions over classroom language are never solely pedagogical. Rather, they are intimately imbricated in broader political dynamics, among which include the evolution of the Moroccan nation-state during the period of mature neoliberalism, and the turbulent and unequal transition of Morocco into the global market. Interestingly, the same controversy opens up a space in which to reflect on the nature of deliberation in the country and the processes through which decisions about the future of the current generation will be made.
On the 4 and 5 October 2013, businessman and founder of the non-governmental organization Zakoura Education, which advocates for the reintegration of previously unschooled children into public education, Noureddine Ayouche held a workshop entitled “The Pathway to Success [Le chemin de la réussite].” Intended to explore the prospects for the reform of the Moroccan educational landscape, the workshop rode on the back of King Mohammed VI’s address to the nation on 20 August 2013 on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the consolidation of the Moroccan anti-colonial struggle. The king’s address was focused on the widely acknowledged educational crisis in the country (“Why is it that so many of our young people cannot fulfill their legitimate professional, material, and social aspirations?”) and confirmed that the “path” to the pivotal transformation of the educational landscape “is still arduous and long” [al-tarīq la yazālu shāqan wa tawīlan].
This monarchical attention to educational matters was more than rhetorical; in fact, it marked the beginning of relevant policies such as the re-activation of the royally appointed High Council of Education [Majlis al-A‘ala lil-Ta‘alīm]. The revamped council had been responsible for implementing the Educational Emergency Plan of 2008, a plan that would respond to the World Bank’s relegation of Morocco to the bottom of the Middle East and North African region’s educational ranking—a region that was itself assessed as performing worse than the rest of the developing world. The World Bank report in question bore the emblematic title “The Road not Traveled: Educational Reform in the Middle East and North Africa”. A recent evaluation of this Education Emergency Plan, which the World Bank funded through two one hundred million dollar loans, claimed that despite relative progress in access to education, gender parity, and literacy rates, the Moroccan public educational system had “a long way to go on quality.” It is very likely that this flurry of activity around education banked on international consensus that both national and transnational agendas since the mid twentieth century have left much to be desired in the educational experience of the developing world—which is, incidentally, also the postcolonial world. This consensus was reiterated during the inauguration of the United Nations Global Education First Initiative in July 2013. Through the cultural diplomacy of the Pakistani youth activist Malala Yousafzai, the UN renewed its commitment to educational provisions, delicately superseding another large scale campaign that has by now run out of steam: the Education for All campaign that UNESCO launched in 1990.
The twofold discourse of "halfway progress" expressed in the spatial metaphor of challenging journeys ahead and "educational fatigue" are evident in the repetitive declarations of crisis and frustrated hopes, remain fairly unchanged across many settings of the so-called global south. Is this discourse then the leading paradigm on developing nations in the era of mature neoliberalism? The controversy engendered by Noureddine Ayouche’s propositions on language policy gives us a chance to re-politicize this neutralized discourse and, by doing so, go against the grain of hegemonic understandings of what education systems are about at this point in time. This gesture of re-politicization entails scrutinizing the structural and historical set up of public education in Morocco through the lens of language politics—which the recent controversy brought back into public forums after a long period of official(y imposed) silence. Language politics push us to unpack the concept of "work skill" and analyze the demands of the current job market in ways that educational research has, at best, misrepresented and, at worst, altogether sidelined. Since language politics is never solely about language, this locally specific examination of the contemporary experience and possible futures of Moroccan public school graduates has to go beyond speculations on the efficiency of the language of instruction, or the pedestrian recognition of the importance of foreign language proficiency. Instead, language politics partake in a broader conversation on the nature of decision-making in the country over all domains of collective social experience. In brief: who and through what process should decide on the language of formal schooling? This article’s suggestion is that the handling of such matters is revealing of the manner in which a professedly burgeoning Moroccan democracy honors its commitment to genuine representation and public consensus.
Ayouche’s workshop triggered a parliamentary and media outcry because of its proposal to consider the “mother tongue”as language of instruction in pre-school and early primary school classes. Both the proposal and the ensuing commotion foregrounded two things: 1) language as fundamental to educational reform and 2) the multilayered meanings and complex boundaries of Morocco’s languages (“indigenous” and “foreign”). The televised debate between Noureddine Ayouche and eminent historian and novelist Abdallah Laroui on the talk show Mubasharatan Ma‘akum (Directly With You), broadcasted on the state media channel 2M on 27 November 2013, provides a great occasion through which to look at the intersection of language policy and Morocco’s educational vision. While it was probably intended as a heated argument among conflicting camps—the Modern Standard Arabic (fuṣḥā) camp represented by Laroui, versus the vernacular camp (dārija and Amazigh languages) defended by Ayouche—the debate put forward nuanced reflections over the nature of pedagogy inside the classroom. The debate also shed light on the linguistic and experiential overlap between official language and the vernaculars, and the role of international expertise in implementing language policy across the developing world. Three threads that deserve further investigation underpinned the one and a half hour-long debate.
The first thread concerned the de facto versus de jure instruction in both dārija and the Amazigh regional dialects in public primary schools. Laroui insightfully noticed that teachers across the country perform their professional duties through constant translation between registers to facilitate comprehension and gradually build student confidence to use Modern Standard Arabic (henceforth, MSA). To this practice of translation, I would add—from personal ethnographic research conducted in public schools—the constant back and forth between French and Arabic in the subjects of science, mathematics, philosophy, etc. regardless of official Arabization of the system since the 1980s. Ayouche retorted that the crucial difference between this ad hoc juggling of languages and systematic schooling in dārija and Amazigh languages lies in the psychological impact of mother tongue instruction that feels more familiar and more empowering to young students. He asserted that his twenty year long experience in Zakoura-run schools, which use the vernaculars of the respective region to integrate previously unschooled children into the mainstream system, had convinced him that exclusive fuṣḥā instruction acted as a deterrent from schooling. As the formal system stands, he stated, most students end up half-literate or illiterate (oumiyyin) despite spending numerous hours inside the classroom. Ayouche supported his argument through internationally produced expert evaluations of mother tongue instruction as a bridge to successful multilingualism, citing UNESCO more than once.
The question of international expertise in diagnosing educational problems met Laroui’s fervent criticism. Laroui accused international educational experts, and UNESCO specifically, for lumping together pedagogical settings and, by extension, ignoring crucial aspects of context-specific educational experiences. Laroui argued that sub-Saharan and East African students are educated in postcolonial institutions where the orality of their vernaculars confronts the textuality of exclusively foreign (francophone or anglophone) schooling. In those contexts, it may be more important to introduce students to the classroom through a language that is familiar to them. By contrast, he said, Morocco already has a written language that is intimately related to the vernacular (by which, I speculate he referred to dārija): MSA. Through this comparison—the strength of which is a topic that lies beyond the scope of this article—Laroui forwarded his overall vision on schooling. Schooling, he claimed, is about the initiation into written culture, hence the fact that one of the Arabic words for school is related to the act of writing [kuttāb from the three letter root ka-ta-ba]. There is little point in bringing students into the institution, Laroui affirmed, if not to help them transit into a (presumably national) written culture. Both contributors commented at length on the relationship between orality and textuality. They agreed that a well-thought out, progressive imbrication of the vernaculars with fuṣḥā within the Moroccan curriculum would prevent students from experiencing the school as rupture. They disagreed on the shape of this linguistic amalgam: Ayouche spoke of a coded, elevated, intermediate dārija [mtwasta] that will gradually fade into fuṣḥā in the fourth grade, whereas Laroui proposed a simplified fuṣḥā [mbasta] that will be close enough to oral communication. Remarkably, the labeling of this amalgam was of lesser importance. When the talk show host interjected to ask: “So how would we call this language, dārija or fuṣḥā?” Ayouche replied nonchalantly: “This is not of my concern.” The debate finished with a brief exchange on the concept and practice of creativity [ibdā‘a]. Ayouche celebrated the predominance of cultural production in dārija while Laroui forwarded the view that creativity should be expressed on different levels, of which fuṣḥā is the most elevated one. As evident from their open-ended exchange, the relationship of language practice and other spheres of social experience is in fact liable to reinterpretation and redirection. However, this seemingly innocuous sociolinguistic observation should not take away from the fact that language practice—as all social experience—is always subject to political structuring.
Notwithstanding its valuable contribution to public conversation, this rather ironed debate has ripples worth probing. While both participants eagerly supported the regionalization of the educational system so that teachers are allocated to schools of their own region (and thus, relate to their students in cultural and linguistic terms), neither one sufficiently addressed how their suggestions would impact primary school Amazighophone students for whom dārija may not be a language spoken at home. Discussion over the standardization of dārija across regions—along the lines of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture’s (IRCAM) ongoing standardization of Tamazight—was also left inconclusive during the debate. The inconclusiveness of both the above suggests that literacy, as pointed out by anthropologist Daniel Wagner, is not a “monolithic entity as we have multiple languages and scripts, as well as multiple levels of skills, knowledge, and beliefs within each language and/or script domain”. More significantly, Wagner had warned us against an assumption that the debate in question reproduced uncritically: he had pointed out that, regardless of our earnest convictions, the causal relationship between literacy and other types of fulfillment, economic or social, has never been unequivocally demonstrated: “We cannot be sure of the direction of relationship between literacy and economic growth. Is literacy a cause or consequence of economic growth, or is it simply unrelated?” This is what is at stake here: certainly, envisioning mass-based education as more manageable for Moroccan students of all backgrounds is closely interweaved with designs for increased representation and social justice. Yet representation and social justice are not intangible concepts and affective conditions but have material underpinnings that should be seriously considered. Could this linguistic compromise that Ayouche and Laroui discussed by lead to the eventual integration of public school students in the job market and society? I have reasons to believe that it may not, and this is due to other linguistic discrepancies that were starkly peripheral to the televised debate. In short, what is the institutional and economic function of foreign languages—especially of French but increasingly of English—in contemporary Morocco?
Continuing this interrogation requires a brief overview of how the Moroccan system has been set up and an evaluation of what this tells us about the profoundly political role of language in education, state-building, and the economy. Ayouche and Laroui’s conversation on language of instruction went a few steps beyond international experts’ oversimplified, quantitative assessments of the Moroccan educational system (see opening paragraph). Such assessments posit education as the product of improved structural engineering: standardized tests, teacher accountability, sufficiency of classrooms, equality of access, and so on. Yet while structural engineering is undeniably pedagogically salient, it conceals the fact that post-independence schools in Morocco, as elsewhere, were informed by a double and rather contradictory logic: the production of an evolving labor force to meet so-called global but predominantly French needs, and the promotion of an Arabo-Muslim official culture, and consequently the monarchical state’s socio-cultural legitimacy, through the creation and safeguarding of a specific version of the past. Double logic explains how Moroccan students are educated in MSA throughout basic education but shift abruptly to an almost entirely (officially or unofficially) francophone tertiary education. It also largely accounts for the fact that deliberations on “pedagogical efficiency” (which is, let us face it, a denotationally indeterminate concept), have fleetingly recognized but have so far not seriously considered instruction in Morocco’s other languages: the vernaculars.
In light of this, the containment of the televised debate within the discourse of pedagogical strategy is elliptic. Language is inherently ideological, whether this is meant more neutrally as the activity of formulating speech as “purposive activity in the sphere of interested human social action,” or more critically as a process of mystification (that is, the legitimation of social domination) in which ideas about language and fundamental social institutions are intimately imbricated. In both cases, the very act of delineating the contours of a language—be it French, Arabic, Tamazight, English—is essentially a social and directed act. Hence, language ideologies, the strategies for their promotion, and the politics of language, are never about language alone. Rather, they are sites for the study of ideology tout court, of multidimensional attempts at domination and of the diverse responses to such attempts. In so far as ideology is itself a multifaceted, evolving, and contradictory entity, it is imperative to maintain our curiosity around how languages get reconfigured both as categories in themselves and in relation to other such categories by decision makers, pundits, and speakers alike. Thus, whatever has been assumed to be the case for the languages of the Maghreb historically may not necessarily resonate with the contemporary experience of mature neoliberalism.
As a start, we should highlight that there is a breach between the salience of Arabization policy as a de-colonizing measure, a mediator of state legitimacy, and the bridging of formal education with a job market that has consistently responded to European (and more recently American) interests. Why is it that this linguistic discrepancy between MSA and French does not feature centrally in educational reform? King Mohammed’s August speech made too brief a mention to it and no recommendations for its improvement. The speech did, however, explicitly encourage the mastery of foreign languages by students who wish to compete in emerging areas of the Moroccan economy such as the car industry, call centers, and the aeronautic industry. Since all three partake in the greater process of global market integration, which reworks instead of alleviating inequalities between North and South, they necessitate a brief comparison. Call center employees for Orange France Telecom in Rabat and Casablanca and engineers in the Renault car industry in Tangiers—assuming that some Moroccan engineers were indeed hired—have vastly different access to the world of international corporations not to speak of their diverse compensation. What they do have in common is that their opportunity to work is contingent on their mastery of French. This brings me to the concept of “work skills.” Scholars of education have expressed their strong skepticism over the definition and inculcation of so-called “valuable work skills” that pair education with the neoliberal value of “flexible accumulation,” essentially turning all possible forms of sociality and being into specific types of exchanges. Therefore language skills partake in the streamlining of school knowledge with new workplace values precisely by pushing the historical and political background of language repertoires aside in favor of their appearance as “commodities.” In brief, neoliberalism reifies colonial language hierarchies despite, or perhaps precisely because of, modifying their shape. Sadly, in this flattening out of languages as commodities, both the Arabic of public schooling and the vernaculars remain secondary to French and English.
It is no wonder, then, that international development rhetoric exhibits a fatigue regarding educational achievements in the global south. After all, the highly unequal staging of people, language, skills and opportunities dates back to the era of modernist imperialism. While the pieces of the puzzle get repositioned through the principles of neoliberalism, the structure of inequality remains stably in place. Neoliberal calls for increasing privatization of schooling cannot offer solutions to this predicament as they do not just threaten already vulnerable notions of citizenship as a right, but they also suppress the diverse meanings of education in different spatiotemporal contexts by advancing the coercive concept of “the knowledge economy.” Equally, it comes as no surprise that the language of unaccomplished goals is one of the roads not yet taken, instead of an uncharted territory. Education, ideally one of the mechanisms for cultural transformation in both predictable and unpredictable ways, must have one foot in the unknown and the unmapped. Yet for international rhetoric and policy, the territory is already charted under the archetypal (no matter how arbitrary) value of competition and the designation of flexible technical and linguistic skills as the most valuable knowledge. These reflections should take us further than Morocco and the Arabophone world to the whole of the global south and its relationship to ever-evolving neocolonial ideas of progress.
Finally, it would be interesting to bring this line of inquiry into language politics and educational policy to bear on the question of who should decide the language of instruction in public education and through what process. Certainly, as the uproar that Ayouche’s suggestions provoked demonstrated, there is considerable fragmentation as much as passion among the Moroccan population regarding the position of the country’s languages. In fact, it is the experience of speakers that seriously challenges conventional definitions of the mother tongue. In a conversation I had with the graduating class of the Faculté des Sciences de l’Education at the University Mohamed V in Rabat back in 2008, I heard a fascinating variety of opinions around the designation of the mother tongue in Morocco. For some, fuṣḥā—the language of the Quran and the Arabo-Islamic civilization—was undeniably a mother tongue notwithstanding the fact that they did not use it much. For others, fuṣḥā was decidedly an official and learned language and removed from their everyday, more intimate, experiences. What is more, speakers’ opinions are not set in stone nor are they devoid of ambivalence. After a long tirade over the failure of Arabization policies implemented in the 70s and 80s and a staunch defense of a bilingual dārija/French instruction, a high school teacher of English took me for lunch in his hometown of Mohammedia. Over lunch he reminisced nostalgically over his student years in Paris and his Lebanese classmates from back then. In his narrative, he sincerely deplored the fact that they communicated in French as opposed to fuṣḥā: “There was a distance between us and it is sad that this should have been the case.”
Certainly, the negotiation over Morocco’s languages can only be hard and complex, but who should take part in it and at what level should it take place? There is value in asking why royal advisers Azziman, El Himma, and Benmokhtar—the last was soon to become Minister of Education—attended Ayouche’s workshop. It may even be interesting to connect their attendance with the king’s August speech in which he assumed patronage over educational reform. Yet as the king asserted himself, he belongs to “no political party and takes part in no election.” Such high profile interventions make it impossible not to consider language policy in education as a feature of broader issues, such as the configuration of political power and the exact nature of representation in the country. In short: Are the language of instruction, the updating of curricula, the care for equitable access, and countering staggering dropout rates not matters that a democratic government who represent the majority of a deliberating Moroccan public should decide?
[This article was originally published on Farzyat.]
 Assdae.com. ‘Khitāb al-Malik Mohammed al-Sādis bi-l-Munāsiba al-Dhikra al-Setoun li-Thawrat al-Malik wa al-Sha‘ab’, 20 August 2013. Retrieved from http://www.assdae.com/23943
 World Bank. (2007) The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/MENAEXT/0,contentMDK:21617643~pagePK:
 World Bank. (2013) Maintaining Momentum on Educational Reform in Morocco. 11 September 2013. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/09/11/maintaining-momentum-on-education-reform-in-morocco/
 By mature neoliberalism here I refer to the current period of consolidation of a US-led market strategy of penetrating national economies and of an ideology of self-reliance and self-management in an arena of unfettered competition–see Ong, A. (2006) Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. NY: Cambridge University Press.
 Throughout this article, the term ‘mother tongue’ will be used as synonymous with the term ‘vernacular’. I purposefully avoid the term ‘dialect’ so as not to naturalize cultural ideas about the shape and value of one linguistic code in relation to others. As argued later, neither the tautology nor the definition of the terms ‘mother tongue’ and ‘vernacular’ are unproblematic or transparent.
 YouTube. ‘Mobachara Ma3Akom Nordine Ayouch et Abdel Aaroui’, 28 November 2013. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ad6bq5BbDs/
 The Arabic language currently taught at the Moroccan school, while officially differentiated from ‘Moroccan Arabic’ and endorsed as the heir of ‘classical Arabic’, is a multi-faceted entity. In English, it is common to refer to this version of Arabic as ‘Modern Standard Arabic’ (MSA), a term that designates “the factual existence of a language based on classical Arabic but also removed from it”. Haeri, N. (2000). ‘Form and Ideology: Arabic Sociolinguistics and Beyond’, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 29, p.73.
 I note that the etymological equivalence Laroui drew between the Latin ‘scuola’ and the act of writing is inaccurate.
 For a more detailed elaboration on this process–see Errihani, M. (2008) ‘Language Attitudes and Language Use in Morocco: Effects of Attitudes on Berber Language Policy’, The Journal of North African Studies, Vol.13, No. 4, pp.411-428.
 Wagner, D. (1993) Literacy, Culture and Development: Becoming Literate in Morocco. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.270.
 Wagner, p.5.
 See Boutieri, C. (2013) ‘Inheritance, Heritage and the Disinherited: Ambiguities of Religious Pedagogy in the Moroccan Public School’, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, vol. 44, no.4, pp.363-380 and Boutieri, C. (2012) ‘A Deux Vitesses (In Two Speeds): Linguistic Pluralism and Educational Anxiety in Contemporary Morocco’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, vol. 44, no.3, pp.443-464.
 Woolard, K. A., & Schieffelin, B. B. (1994) ‘Language ideology’, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 23, p.57.
 See Urciuoli, B. (2008) ‘Skills and Selves in the New Workplace’, American Ethnologist, Vol.35, No. 2, pp.211-228.