Moroccos House of Councilors Approves Controversial Education Bill

Rabat – The House of Councilors, the 120-member upper house of Morocco’s parliament, has approved the newly adopted Draft Law 51.17, definitely putting to rest nationwide debates about the implications of that law for the future of Moroccan education.The draft law has widely been opposed in Moroccan conservative circles. One MP of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) resigned after Parliament adopted the bill. To most PDJ supporters, the bill feels like a dangerous deviation from the party’s traditional nationalist and Islamist foundational pillars.Critics of the bill, among them former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, feared that the adoption of French as the principal medium of instruction for scientific subjects at high school level, one of the bill’s major points, amounted to a cultural surrender to French culture and identity. Benkirane, a founding and well-respected member of Morocco’s ruling, Islamist PJD, even called on PJD MPs to boycott the law because, he said, it was contradictory to Moroccan culture and identity.According to education minister Said Amzazi, however, those who opposed the draft law have an incomplete, inaccurate understanding of what it really means for Morocco’s education system.Speaking yesterday after the House of Councilors green lighted the parliament’s lower house’s decision to adopt the bill in question, Amzazi said that social inclusiveness and socio-economic equity are some aspects of the law that have not been sufficiently mentioned in debates over its implications for the future of the Moroccan social and educational systems.Channeling King Mohammed VI’s Throne Day Speech, which called for a new impetus to complete the ongoing reforms and bring about “a new generation” of Moroccan public servants, the Moroccan minister said the law is consistent with the “royal vision” to modernize Morocco’s education, maximize pupils’ performance in foreign languages and policy decisions. This in turn, Amzazi stressed, will drive up Morocco’s competitiveness on the world stage.Inclusive education system, compulsory and free-of charge schooling for children aged 1 to 16, equal opportunities for all children, as well as socio-economic equity were some of the points Amzazi repeatedly relied on to show, according to him, how the newly passed law is key to achieving the new development model of which the King enthusiastically spoke in his Throne Day speech.He said the law includes positive discrimination for students from low-income, marginalized backgrounds, a reflection of the King’s insistence on policy reforms aimed at including and lifting Moroccans who still feel left behind or not concerned with the series of reforms that have so far punctuated the country’s political life.If Amzazi’s hearty, celebratory reception of the adoption of the controversial bill sounds like one of the most spirited defenses of a law which some Moroccans do not welcome, it is because the minister has been one of the most outspoken voices of the modernization, pro- Draft Law 51.17 camp.When the bill was being drafted and provoked uproarious opposition among conservative MPs and political pundits, Amzazi hit back in numerous public statements. He consistently said that embracing the fast-moving world of globalization benefits Morocco far more than conservatives’ call for keeping, or returning to, some essence of Moroccan identity.In a March interview with Moroccan outlet Challenge, he said that Morocco had to choose between remaining parochial and at the margins of global dynamics, or catching the train of globalization and scientific progress.The recently approved law, he suggested back then, represented a step in the right direction, one of educating future generations of Moroccans at ease with and equipped to navigate the world of scientific progress and technical inventions.“What exactly are we asking of our education system?” Amzazi asked. “Do we want to train our children in a vacuum in a model predefined for eternity and without regard for the changing world around, or do we rather want them to be equipped to be citizens of the world, capable of integrating themselves in competitive work settings, and having mastery over technological advances impacting all fields?”

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