The right to education is a fundamental pillar of children’s rights. Achieving universal education, however, is a complicated process that requires social policy to join with the educational policy to develop strategies that bring change. These plans depend on the support of all national stakeholders regarding children in Morocco. Comprehensive and accurate information sources will be provided in this article as a record of the situation and analysis of this data can be used for more taking effective actions by the Sahara Spirit Foundation in fighting against the social exclusion of children, especially girls, from schools.
- The Importance of Education
Education is a key to developing economic productivity and social bonds. It helps to increase the overall productivity and intellectual flexibility of the labor force; it also contributes to ensuring that a given country is competitive in the overall world market, which is normally characterized by exchanging technologies and production techniques. Furthermore, education helps increasing children’s integration no matter what ethnic or social groups they belong to.
An essential question that should be asked before delving into the issue is the following: why is education important for development?
To provide a tentative answer to this question, it is taken for granted that all students deserve to have the right to an education. The reason behind this is that education gives people the necessary skills to help themselves out of poverty and to have a prosperous life. Education can also help in the improvement of various domains among which (1) improving people’s health as thanks to education, people are better prepared to prevent disease and to use health services effectively. Also, educated mothers can give birth to healthier children compared to the uneducated ones. (2) attaining democracy and political stability because education supports the growth of civil society, democracy, and political security, which allows people to learn about their rights and acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to exercise them.
- Defining the Notion of Quality in Education
The quality of education is a huge challenge. One of the dangers of a wholly state-driven system, by its nature, largely cut off from any competitive market in education, is that measurements are, or become, internally referenced.
An important question that should be raised is: what does quality mean in the context of education? In the literature that was produced on this issue, many definitions emerged to define this complex concept in its relation to education. However, the concept of quality in the field of education remains a hard concept to be easily defined. The terms efficiency, effectiveness, equity, and quality have often been used synonymous (Adams, 1993). However, Considerable consensus exists around the basic dimensions of quality education today. According to the-the meeting of The International Working Group on Education that was held in Italy in 2000, Quality education includes:
- Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities.
- Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and provide adequate resources and facilities;
- Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in such areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS prevention, and peace.
- Processes through which trained teachers use child-centred teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms and schools and skillful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities.
- Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and positive participation in society.
This definition allows for an understanding of education as a complex system embedded in a political, cultural and economic context. However, it is of paramount importance to keep in one’s mind the systemic nature of education as these dimensions are interrelated, and each one of them influences the other. For further illustration, the following quote summarizes the whole concept of quality education:
In all aspects of the school and its surrounding education community, the rights of the whole child, and all children, to survival, protection, development, and participation are at the centre. This means that the focus is on learning which strengthens the capacities of children to act progressively on their own behalf through the acquisition of relevant knowledge, useful skills and appropriate attitudes; and which creates for children, and helps them create for themselves and others, places of safety, security and healthy interaction. (Bernard, 1999)
- Education in the Moroccan Context
In Morocco, the academic year begins in September and ends in June, and the official primary school entrance age is 6. The system is structured so that the primary school cycle lasts six years, lower secondary lasts three years, and upper secondary lasts three years. Morocco has a total of 6,575,000 pupils enrolled in primary and secondary education. Of these pupils, about 4,021,000 (61%) are enrolled in primary education. Figure one below shows the highest level of education reached by youth ages 15-24 in Morocco. Although youth in this age group may still be in school and working towards their educational goals, it is notable that approximately 26% of youth have no formal education and 23% of youth have attained at most incomplete primary education, meaning that in total 49% of 15-24 year old have not completed primary education in Morocco.
- Barriers to School Inclusion for Children
This article analyzes the factors that have an effect on school exclusion and determines which of these constitute the largest barriers to education. It also distinguishes factors that are related to educational demand, along with economic and social barriers linked to educational provision.
According to a report on out of school children that were produced by UNICEF in (2014), in preschool, the economic barriers are more significant given the predominantly private nature of the educational provision at this level. On a social level, preschool enrollment is largely affected by the fact that it is not traditionally part of the system, as well as influenced by increased discrimination against girls starting early in rural areas.
In primary school where the rate of enrollment is quasi-universal, barriers linked to provision are significant obstacles to children continuing their education. Delayed access and grade-repetition represent major factors in school dropout. Delayed access seems to be specific to rural areas where coupled with low levels of preschool education; it leads to being mixed student cohorts in primary schools; as much regarding age as knowledge. High rates of grade repetition indicate low levels of acquisition of knowledge for students and reflect the low quality of school environments.
For secondary school, socio-economic barriers become more significant than in primary school. The number of children who work indicates that financial difficulties are faced by numerous households, particularly in rural areas. Socially, girls from rural areas are more disadvantaged than boys and therefore fewer of them can regularly attend secondary school. The number of secondary schools is not sufficient in rural areas and is partly responsible for these economic and social barriers. Gender discrimination in rural areas is closely linked to the insufficient supply of schools in some regions, and to a lesser extent, the low quality of school facilities and environments.
Economic difficulties also play a part in limiting education, particularly in cases of large families and single-parent families where the great majority of heads of household are women. It was also observed that a distinct lack of school provision for children with special needs exists and that this provision is developing incredibly slowly in comparison with the relatively rapid development of primary education. This is the cause of the low educational levels found among children with disabilities. However, it should be noted that, particularly in rural areas, an increasing parental commitment is being observed regarding educating children. This takes the form of growing financial support and indicates that parents have an improved perception of the importance of education.
- Barriers hindering Girls’ Education
In many countries and communities in both the developed and the developing world, parents can take it for granted that their daughters receive a quality education. In many other places around the world, providing every child with an education appears to be beyond reach.
The department for international development identified five main challenges that make it difficult for girls to access education. This include:
- the cost of education: ensuring that communities, parents and children can afford to school
- poor school environments: ensuring that girls have access to a safe school environment
- the weak position of women in society – ensuring that society and parents value the education of girls
- Conflict: ensuring that children who are excluded due to a conflict have access to schooling
- social exclusion: ensuring girls are not disadvantaged by caste, ethnicity, religion or disability.
These challenges are not exhaustive, but they are recurrent themes in many countries. They constitute additional hurdles girls need to overcome to benefit from quality education.
Hence, The Sahara Spirit Foundation’s role is that of supporting the Sahara region of Morocco in meeting these challenges. Its role is a supporting and a leading one. And its support works best if it is based on Morocco’s national strategies to reduce poverty and make progress in education. In particular, Its major aim is to have in the schools allocated in the Sahara region of Morocco, the essential elements of quality education for girls.
- Social and Educational Policies Linked to School Exclusion
National strategies regarding strengthening and developing social and educational policy show that the state is committed to improving the living conditions of the population by strengthening mechanisms to develop and improve the education system. This commitment is particularly visible regarding the significant financial investment in the social sector. This has represented more than one-third of the state budget since 2009. The education sector takes up more than 80 per cent of this part of the budget, indicating that it is the cornerstone of social development in Morocco and one of the national priorities.
National policies, particularly since the start of the new millennium, have reinforced mechanisms aiming to fight against school exclusion. In the education sector, several programs have been developed to extend school provision, improve educational conditions for children and counter socioeconomic factors linked to non-enrollment and early school leaving. The most recent of these were developed as part of an ‘Emergency Program’ from 2009 to 2012, which in addition to guaranteeing comprehensive coverage of primary school and the relative extension of the secondary cycle, included specific actions linked to improving equality of educational opportunities for children.
The Emergency Program is part of the on-going 10-year reform initiated by the “Charter on Education and Training”. This sets out specific actions to guarantee compulsory schooling as part of a set of measures that cover extending the compulsory school provision, developing the preschool cycle, improving school infrastructure and improving the quality of educational life. Furthermore, Dimensions four and five are specifically focused on the fight against students dropping out. They aim to strengthen equity of access to the system, which includes children with special needs. The ‘Tayssir’ program, which allocates money to families if children attend school, is one of the key measures focused on fighting the socioeconomic barriers linked to school exclusion. The rapid progression of the number of children benefiting from the program (more than 1 million students) and its planned extension to secondary school demonstrate the importance accorded to tackling these external factors which affect compulsory schooling. Regarding system governance, decentralization, which was initiated by creating regional education and training academies has been reinforced by delegating more power to the regions to make local authorities more autonomous. Using a ‘project’ approach has improved management mechanisms among the different programs by making the action more visible and defining responsibilities at different levels of the education system.
It is important to note that, despite the internal and external evaluation mechanisms, which are very advanced in terms of diagnosis and publishing information, there are still problems with implementing the system’s regulatory direction as it faced programs which are executed slowly, particularly those related to extending school provision, and governance mechanisms which are still weak within the decentralized authorities. It should also be noted that the lack of regional visibility on the living conditions of children is also a barrier to the efficacy of measures undertaken, particularly relating to the most vulnerable populations.
- Rethinking the Individual and Educational Policies
In spite of educational policy efforts to accomplish equality, it seems as though the social class is reproduced through education. Many people have the negative experience of schooling, and it is associated with sufferance, low self-esteem, frustration, and dreariness. Trying to solve the low skilled’s social situation by offering more schooling might, therefore, increase the problems the policy sets out to solve (Alvesson, 1999). None is assumed to be the fact of not wanting to go to school for a considerable amount of his or her life; not having access to the job market until after 12-15 years of schooling can easily give expression to the idea that those not having access to a longer education are considered misfits. Many jobs could also be performed with a less educational background. A one-sided focus on the beneficial effects of education tends to marginalize other qualifications such as interest, personal adequacy, and experience; establishing that most of us have experienced teachers having the formal qualifications, but lacking ability to teach well, Alvesson continues.
There is a shift in education in contemporary society, where the State has a role in creating self-governing individuals; what Foucault referred to as governmentality (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). In a neoliberal market economy, the individual has a central position. In transnational reforms, there is an increased focus on student-centered pedagogy (e.g. Anderson-Levitt, 2003; Chounlamany & Kounphilaphanh, 2011). One way to understand student-centered learning is that it is based on the idea that knowledge is socially constructed, reconstructed and formed contextually (van Harmelen, 1998). Lifelong learning is one issue that is emphasized in educational policies; and includes according to Rizvi & Lingard (2010) the need to acquire knowledge the whole life through, either in formal or informal education. The importance is not only on “what” to know but rather “how” to know. The learning can take place between generations so parents, for example, can learn how to use new technology through their children, the individual is held responsible for his/her education and should rather consider it as an economical investment. Furthermore, it configures the citizen to a knowledge-based society that is formed by globalization (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010: 84-85).
- Fostering Students’ Motivation
In today’s era of globalization and market economy, citizens are expected to be flexible and ready to adapt to a constantly changing situations, which is not always what happens in practice as the following quote indicates:
The extremely rapid rate of change in social development, globalization’s breaking down of borders and cultures, and breakdown in a long series of traditional patterns of interpretations of, for example, religious, ideological, class and traditional natures, all bring more and more people into exile, [and] sudden involuntary unemployment (…) (Illeris, 2008: 45).
Illeris continues that, living in the knowledge society, conveys ideas of an international competition of citizens’ competence, and leads to an awareness of the importance of personal development and also a willingness for life-long learning, which concerns in particular educational reforms, and educational management. A growing problem in the education system is that pupils’ motivation is under pressure in most parts of the educational system. Apart from pressure on the content and interaction areas, there are also motivation problems and ambivalent feelings in the incentive area.
- The Sahara Spirit Foundation’s Tentative
As mentioned earlier in this article, many initiatives were led that tried to increase access to primary, secondary and higher education in the African context generally and in the Sahara region of Morocco particularly.
As we have mentioned earlier, education plays an important role in the development of any society in general.To be more specific, education in the Sahara region of Morocco serves as a major key to the overall development of the whole region. For this reason, the Sahara Spirit Foundation (henceforth, SSF) aims at promoting educational awareness among parents, providing a high-quality education for students and involving them in the community they live in.
To begin with parents’ awareness, it is of paramount importance to sensitize them about their children’s schooling as many of them might be totally against it. The SSF aims at making parents aware of the benefit their children gain if sent to school and being able to pursue their education at higher institutions later. The SSF will achieve this goal by organizing sensitization campaigns to give those parents a voice to share their thoughts, perceptions and fears about their children’s schooling. Therefore, the role of the SSF will be that of comforting parents about their fears and assuring them that their children will be taught within an effective educational system that includes well-trained teachers, administrative staff, and a high-quality learning/teaching environment. The foundation members will also listen carefully to parents’ ideas by organizing focus groups, round tables, and workshops to collect enough data about parents’ visions concerning their children’s future.
Second, the SSF aims to guarantee a high-quality education to all students. One of the practical implications for achieving this purpose is making sure that each pupil who is, at schooling age will be given a seat in the classroom. SSF seeks to develop and implement a policy of promoting girls’ education that face some challenges. However for every challenge, there are examples of promising good practice that should form the basis of the way ahead. SSF will support governments to strengthen political leadership and empower women, Make girls’ education affordable; and make schools work for all girls. The reason behind this action is to include all students in the learning process and not leaving any one of them marginalized or excluded from it to achieve social justice in education. This support will enable the government to develop poverty reduction strategies and education sector plans to improve girls’ access to quality education.
A further importance will be given to creating more teaching and learning materials inside the classroom walls so that students will be exposed to learning from various sources of information and not only focusing on the textbook use. These new learning/teaching approaches and techniques are more likely to make students enjoy the class time, increase their learning motivation and ultimately meet their learning needs.
Third, being aware of the importance of moving from what students learn in classrooms through theory to practicing in the outside world, this foundation intends to make students learn how to be active, creative, and participating in the major development of the Sahara society. Students will be put in practical situations that stimulate their reflections about the society they live in and how to be able to use its resources for the common good of its individuals. This foundation is interested in providing students with critical insights into how the Sahara society could be improved by including all its members in the overall development of the Sahara region.
To conclude, the Sahara Spirit Foundation (SSF) has three major purposes-among many others- to be achieved in the field of education namely: increasing the level of parents’ awareness about the need to have their children educated, providing a high quality education for students enrolled by creating new learning/teaching materials and providing students with an equality of opportunity in education. Finally, SSF aims at making students take part in the society they live in by reflecting on all the possibilities for social change in the Sahara region of Morocco.
In this article, special emphasis was put on issues related to the structure of the Moroccan educational system as well as those related to girls’ education, increasing parents’ awareness towards the benefit of their children’s schooling and motivating students to learn how to learn to make individuals succeed more or less in getting integrated into the Sahraoui society that is one of the major aims of the Sahara Spirit Foundation. Bringing together the many dimensions that contribute to educational quality — learners, environment, content, process, and outcomes — is the main task. Promoting the field of education requires knowledge, resources, commitment and willingness to change which is the Sahara Spirit Foundation’s intention.
By: Ms. Fadoua El-Hmaydi
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