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EL Middle East 2017: More English for Morocco

Dale Harvey School in Sidi Ifni

Matt Salusbury writes

Initiatives to raise the official status of English in Morocco are proving popular. Back in March 2014 Morocco’s higher education minister Lahcen Daoudi announced plans to switch from French to English as the nation’s primary language for higher education, following an earlier government statement of its ‘desire’ to make English the nation’s official second language. The Supreme Council for Education then submitted a report in January 2015 calling for English to replace French in the Moroccan curriculum for schools. In a 2015 survey by Arabic-language news website Hespress, nearly 86 per cent of Moroccans who responded wanted to replace French with English as the country’s first foreign language, with Morocco’s youth in particular viewing French as a hangover from the days of the protectorate that ended in 1956. (The official second language, and the most prominent language of higher education, is still currently French, with the official first languages being Arabic and Berber with equal status.)

Moroccan World News reported that new higher education minister Rachid Belmokhtar updated the Supreme Council for Education late last November, telling them that his ministry had taken ‘serious procedures to expand and improve’ the use of English by students, including the establishment of English clubs in all high schools, which he said had already been a success.

Belmokhtar was encouraged by the ‘good’ level of English demonstrated by students participating in last November’s COP 22, the Marrakech climate change conference called by the United Nations Environment Programme as a follow-up to the Paris climate agreement. The minister also cited Morocco’s position as the highest-ranking Middle East and North Africa region country in the 2016 EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI – the test doesn’t cover speaking, while its test-taker sample is those who discover the test online and volunteer to take it). EF’s own report on the EF EPI noted that the recent arrival of Daewoo and other Asian manufacturers to Morocco has been a further stimulus to the ‘understanding of the economic value of mastering English’. Morocco’s sixth general census of population and housing for 2014 recorded 66 per cent of Moroccans as speaking French, while 18.3 per cent spoke English.

At around the same time as the minister’s update, a prominent Kuwaiti businessman and Islamic scholar was quoted as telling Moroccans, ‘French is useless and a waste of time,’ with his speech widely circulated on Moroccan social media. Tariq Al-Suwaidan, giving a speech at an organisation affiliated to the ruling Party of Justice and Development, told his audience, ‘I am serious, French is not the language of tourism, science and civilization – 80 per cent of scientific research in every field are released in English. Today, the language of science is English – keep it in your minds.’ Al-Suwaidan added, ‘You are still attached to French. We need to break this barrier because it is useless. Pay to attention to this and learn English.’

Pic courtesy: Dale Hervey