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EL Middle East 2017: From Mountains To Medinas

Pasquale Paolo Cardo Rabat Mausolée des rois Hassan II et Mohammed V
British Council Morocco’s Paul Harvey explains what has kept him in the country for eleven years, and what the future looks like for ELT

Kasbahs, ancient cities, labyrinthine medinas, Roman ruins, deserts, mountains and very, very long coastlines – Morocco really does have all these things and … there are also two British Council centres. One is in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, and the other is in Rabat, the capital and an hour and a half north, both on the Atlantic coast. Casablanca is Morocco’s business hub, but Rabat has the feeling of a large town rather than a metropolis. I have been working at the British Council, Rabat for eleven years, initially as a full-time network teacher and now as a freelance member of staff.

Casablanca has a well-resourced teaching centre, which houses both the teaching team and also part of the exams and business support services (BSS) teams. Rabat has a ‘hub’ where the various British Council teams (Education and Society, Arts, English and Exams, BSS) are based, but does not have its own dedicated space for teaching. Instead, teaching takes place off site in two partner premises. There are around 25 teachers in both cities. The minimum requirement to work as a teacher is a Celta/Trinity plus two years’ full-time post-certification teaching. There are opportunities for development, with financial support offered towards the Delta.

Since I have been in Morocco I have seen many very positive changes, which make life a great deal easier for teachers here on a day-to-day basis. There have been great improvements in transport, road networks, shopping, communication systems and a lot of urban development, especially in the north. Both Casablanca and Rabat now have efficient tramway systems and the high-speed railway network is already under construction between Casablanca and Tangier. Intercity coach services, although not always ‘bang on time’, are a lot more efficient now.

One of the most significant changes I have seen over the last decade is the increase in the use of English and the number of people acknowledging the usefulness and, indeed, the necessity of learning it. The British Council has been involved over the last two years in training Moroccan state school teachers (not only teachers of English) to teach for the new English baccalaureate, and one of the other projects planned for April is the opening of a kindergarten in Rabat to cater for the needs of very young learners.

The increased interest in English has also led to the introduction of new courses at the British Council: English through drama, presentation skills, specific English speaking courses and English writing courses. Ielts preparation courses have seen big increases in enrolment and teachers often get trained up to become local examiners too. As well as the implementation of these new courses, the Training Projects team is developing online distance learning courses. I have also seen a great increase in corporate contracts for the British Council and this has added variety to teaching assignments.

The process of getting a work visa has also been made a lot smoother than it used to be. British Council teachers are supported by a member of the local British Council staff in doing this. Education too is changing and, with it, attitudes to what goes on in a classroom. I have found from many years’ experience of working with both Moroccan students and teachers in public and private education that, although much in education is fairly traditional, Moroccans are, in general, very open to more dynamic approaches in the classroom. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults. Above all, Moroccans are linguistically very adaptable; most Moroccans, especially in the cities, are bilingual in French and Arabic (Darija, the Moroccan form), with many people speaking Berber as well. This learner knowledge of another European language can often be a great help in the classroom.

As with most cities in North Africa, the cost of living is cheaper than in Europe. Like anywhere, it depends where you choose to live, but on a full-time teacher’s salary there is a good range of affordable accommodation and no necessity to share. Life becomes more expensive if you choose to shop at the French or Moroccan supermarkets and eat at the higher-end restaurants, but affordable local shopping and eateries are everywhere. Fruit and vegetables in Morocco from local markets are generally cheap, plentiful and hugely varied.

There are direct flights from the UK to Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Marrakech, Agadir and Tangier – a huge and varied range of places to visit, and weather (in the north) that is never overly hot or overly cold: just three of the many reasons that have kept me here for eleven years. 

Pic courtesy: Pasquale Paolo Cardo