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Morocco’s English Option

Karen Hooper and Kathryn Kelly report on a groundbreaking programme teaching maths, science and IT using Clil methodology

Morocco

SHIFTING SANDS Students from the English Option project, the first English-medium programme to be implemented in a Maghreb state education system, celebrate on Mehdia beach (Courtesy Karen Hooper)

 

The demand for English is clearly and steadily rising in Morocco. The British Council has more than 5,000 students taking its online course LearnEnglish Connect (see page 11), and each school term has seen registration for its teaching centres increase significantly. The British Council is also involved in one of the most dynamic and innovative education reform projects in North Africa, which reflects both the Moroccan government’s commitment to improving the employability of its youth and the changing role of English in the wider society. 

A small group of upper-secondary schools across Morocco are piloting the first English-medium programme to be implemented in a state education system in the Maghreb. Since its launch in September 2014 the British Council has been working closely with the Ministry of National Education to provide support for the teachers who are involved in this pioneering and innovative initiative. 

There are currently five schools in Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier and Tetouan with approximately 250 students and 25 teachers involved in the programme, known as the Moroccan Baccalaureate-English Option. The students are being taught an incremental proportion of their mathematics, life sciences and earth science, physics and chemistry and IT (collectively referred to as Stem) classes in English using Clil methodology over their three-year baccalaureate programme. They also receive five hours of English language per week, two more than their peers in mainstream sections. French continues to be taught as a second language for four hours per week, while the rest of the curriculum is delivered in Arabic. The Moroccan Baccalaureate is the entrance requirement for higher education in Morocco.

The English Option programme, which aims to produce high school graduates able to pursue tertiary education in English, is unfolding in a rich but increasingly complex language environment. We get a sense of this complexity from the experience of several of the Stem teachers involved in the programme who are native speakers of Darija, colloquial Moroccan Arabic.

Mohammed, the teacher of maths at our pilot school in Rabat, is typical of his peers: he completed his own secondary school and undergraduate studies in French during the 1980s. French is a second language for Mohammed, and at the beginning of his career he taught maths in French. Then in the 1990s he was instructed to switch to Arabic, a language which he says he did not fully master. Today he is delivering his lessons in English. One subject, three languages of delivery and none of them his native tongue.

In the first year the British Council was contracted to provide language support for the Stem  teachers, training to improve their capacity to teach through English and professional development for the Moroccan teachers of English. British Council teachers are not – and never will be – delivering lessons to the students. In the second year, based on more than 150 hours of classroom-based research last year, we’re trying to strike a balance between promoting best practice in whole-class instruction while continuing to encourage teachers to experiment with the communicative activities that are central to language progression.

The five teachers of English face a particular challenge: given the increased number of weekly hours of lessons and the fact that the English language levels of students on the programme tend to be higher than those of their contemporaries, existing national programmes and textbooks are simply not suitable. We are working with them to explore areas that could bridge the English language and Clil classrooms, specifically exploiting opportunities for promoting language proficiency for formal academic learning. And we work closely with the Stem teachers to explore ways of introducing a more interactive dynamic to their classrooms and to foster a range of thinking skills in their lessons.

Looking forward, one of the key challenges is to ensure opportunities for the further development of the distinct skills these students are acquiring. While there is an increasing number of opportunities to study English in private higher institutions in Morocco, there are currently a limited number of courses taught in English in Moroccan public universities.

However, the Ministry of Higher Education has repeatedly stressed the importance of English for learning and teaching at the postgraduate and doctorate levels. And in summer 2015 a highly influential national advisory body recommended that English be promoted as the language of scientific research and introduced progressively alongside other foreign languages as a medium of instruction in universities and training centres. The ministry has indicated informally to us that they are adopting these recommendations from the beginning of the academic year in 2017, which would be extremely timely for the first graduates of the English Option.

We have been impressed and occasionally moved by the modest but significant changes being brought to the classroom by teachers, their appetite for professional development and their determination to succeed. That said, the programme does face some of the challenges seen in similar endeavours elsewhere: lack of customised curricula and fit-for-purpose materials; a severe scarcity of teachers with the necessary language skills; misgivings surrounding new teaching practices; and minimal pedagogical and administrative guidelines.

The English Option programme has several exemplary features which are powerful indicators for its success and scalability. Participation is optional – for schools, teachers and students. Learning through English is introduced gradually and only in a few specified subjects, and the teachers are given reduced teaching timetables to allow for training, materials development and additional lesson preparation. In addition, funding for the British Council’s continued involvement has been secured through a public–private partnership arrangement with Fondacion OCP (Office Cherifien des Phosphates), the corporate social responsibility wing of Morocco’s largest publically owned company and the world’s leading producer of phosphates. Finally, we believe that the teaching practices and learning skills that are developing will be highly relevant in an environment where most learning and teaching takes place in a language other than teachers’ and learners’ native tongues.

Karen Hooper (Karen.hooper@britishcouncil.org) is the team leader on the British Council’s English Option Programme. Kathryn Kelly (Kathryn.kelly@britishcouncil.org) is an English projects manager based in Rabat