On the Ground: Education in Morocco

Harpole - 1-1

A class at the Center for the Protection of Children.

By Chase Harpole

This post originally appeared in the University of Kentucky’s online international newspaper: The World Report

This past summer, I traveled to Morocco for nine weeks for study abroad. During the course of my stay, I worked at the Center for the Protection of Children. There, I met Walid, and he came to change the course I wanted my life to follow. Walid is in a no win situation. Outstanding circumstances have forced him to abandon his education from a young age and take to the streets of Agadir. Now, Walid has found a minutia of balance at the Center for the Protection of Children, but come July he will leave the Center following his 18th birthday. Despite the path Walid was forced to walk, he is still an exceptionally curious and bright individual. His charisma and humor make it easy to forget that he has suffered from so much. In fact, all of the children at the Center for the Protection of Children make it easy to forget that they have each suffered so much. Kids are kids, but pain is pain, and poverty is poverty. Many of the kids at the Center, have a chance that Walid does not have: they can continue their formal education, since they are younger. Walid does not get this opportunity, but it is not to say that he doesn’t want it. My goal then, is to try and raise enough money so that Walid can be supported as he completes his Baccalaureate (high school degree). In the meantime, I want to understand how Walid and so many others have been put into the situation that they find themselves in. What follows is a post from my blog: Feeding Walid. If you would like to learn more about the project, and Walid you can find out there. This post concerns the educational situation in Morocco, and exactly how common Walid’s educational situation is.

First, let’s establish Morocco’s current economic situation. According to the World Bank, a country is considered developing if its gross national income (GNI) per capita is less than US$ 11,095. Morocco has a GNI per capita of US$ 3,030 as of 2013. This is not as severe as countries like Malawi and Burundi (US$ 270 and 280 respectively), nor nowhere close to the heights of developed countries like the US, Canada, and the UK (US$ 53,670; 52,200; and 39,140). Thus, Morocco is often considered a lower middle-income country (which is not to say that it is developed, since it has not yet met that classification).

Literacy is perhaps the most minimal definition of education, and generally a basic human right. It is the means by which lifelong learning can occur and by which an individual can come to improve their income, health, and their relationship with the world around them. Literacy in Morocco is defined as being over the age of 15 with the capacity to read and write. Morocco rests at 67% literacy (as of 2011) with 76.1% of men and 57.6% of women classified as literate. This number is not as abysmal as Afghanistan’s 28.1% literacy (last estimated in 2000) with 43.1% of men and 12.6% women, but it is quite stark compared to the developed world (the US is sitting at an even 99% split across both genders). Literacy is not the best measure of a country’s education, but it is a good comparison measure for educational levels across countries (it is also a good indicator of the presence of gender inequality as well, i.e. if men and women do not have similar levels of literacy that country, as a whole, probably does not treat men and women equally).

So much like GNI per capita, Morocco sits a bit in the middle-to-low range of literacy for all countries. These statistics, together, help to create the image of Morocco’s current development standing. Morocco is best described in my mind as “middling” because there are many worse case scenarios, developmentally, than Morocco, but there are also much more better-developed countries as well. The problem then, is looking at a country like Morocco and saying that it is doing “pretty well.” Compared to some of the worst development cases in the world, it is actually doing “pretty well.” But if we isolate the statistics and take them out of the context of comparison, the numbers look far more “real.” Just over two-thirds of Moroccans above the age of 15 can read and write—three-quarters of them being men and less than two-thirds of them being women. There is almost a 20% difference between the proportion of women that are literate versus the proportion of men. These numbers are dire, even given the progress that has been made to reduce illiteracy across the globe (for more information on these strides towards global literacy check out information concerning the UN Literacy Decade that will have ended two years ago at the end of December).

While the institutional quality of education is hard to quantify and compare, what existing statistics do reveal is that Morocco has increasingly improved their education system from even a decade ago. The World Bank reports on some of these numbers. Over the course of the last decade, thanks in large part to a concentrated effort by the Moroccan government, enrollment rates have increased greatly: the number of primary students enrolled has rose from 52.4% to 98.2% (due to compulsory primary education), lower secondary (middle) school enrollment rose from 17.5% to 56.4%, while upper secondary school enrollment rose from 6.1% to 32.4%. Progress has also been made in gender equality in primary education with the difference in enrollment between urban boys (the highest percentage) and rural girls (the lowest percentage) narrowing to 3.5%. However, at the lower secondary level this statistic does not hold, as 79% of urban boys are enrolled versus 26% of rural girls.

While enrollment is a huge issue, this says nothing of educational quality. The most popular line of thinking in development literature concerns institutional quality, that is to say that the effectiveness of the infrastructure and bureaucracy of the country. If a country has a corrupt police force, there is likely to be a higher crime rate, so reducing corruption will reduce crime. Thus, development scholars believe that increasing the quality of institutions will help grease the wheels for unhampered development.

Unfortunately, the World Bank has found that despite rising enrollment rates, the quality of the public education system in Morocco is still low. When given an international standardized test, only 74% of Grade 4 Moroccans met the lowest mathematics score, and none met the highest benchmark. With all the being said, education is still one of the most important stated development goals of the Moroccan government. Last August, King Mohammad VI voiced his concern over the ground still left to cover, despite the significant progress, creating the Higher Council for Education to ensure policy is effective in enhancing education.

The long-term goal of Feeding Walid is to eventually reach the capacity to increase the institutional quality of education in Morocco, but in the short term, we have Walid, another statistic. And let’s take him in that context. Walid, like many kids, was able to make it through primary school well enough. Like in the US, ages for primary school range from around 6 to 12 (1st to 6th grades). He was a part of that 98.2%. It was in middle school, or lower secondary school, that his life began to turn around. For a time, he was part of the just over half, the 56.4%, that enrolled in middle school, but as his story reflects, he had to put his education on hold as extenuating circumstances overtook his ability to educate himself. Now, though, we can help him. He is working towards completing middle school, and he wants to become part of a Moroccan minority: the less than one-third that eventually enroll in upper secondary education. As of the most recent census, 85% of Americans at least have their high school diploma. Less than one-third of Moroccans don’t even enroll in high school, much less complete it.

Education is one of the most important keys to economic growth. W.W. Rostow, a development economist, labels education as one of the pre-conditions for a developing economy’s “take-off.” Nancy Birdsall and Richard Sabot, two other renowned development economists, compared the benefits in concentrated investments in education performed in East Asian countries in comparison to low or stagnating educational investment in Latin American countries. They found that this concentration in investment rapidly spurred economic growth and reduced inequality in East Asia compared to the sluggish development of Latin American countries.

The take-away is this: Morocco is making great strides in improving its economy and its development. The country is far from a worst case scenario, and it is becoming another beacon of hope in a region desolated by worse case scenarios. But that does not mean that it should be ignored. It doesn’t matter how fast Morocco grows, for people like Walid, they already have the raw-end of the deal. Without our help, he will be part of the baggage Morocco must lug on its way to progress and I cannot let that happen. I have said it many times, but I hope to one day be in a position where I can aid Morocco and other developing countries on a large scale. Right now though, people like Walid are left in the wake of the country’s progress. Help me elevate Walid above the statistic. I cannot do this alone. Everyday this becomes more and more apparent. If you would like to help, I hope that you look at our How to Help page, and please consider donating. Every dollar is another step to saving someone lost along the way to a country’s prosperity.

See the original post from November 11, 2014 here.