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Why are teachers’ rights marginalised in Morocco?

November 6, 2017 at 10:01 am

Moroccan children painting in a school classroom [Julie Delahanty/Twitter]

The Moroccan Ministry of Education has been working hectically to rectify some of the setbacks from which the sector suffers, especially before the recent sacking of ministers. New teachers have been recruited and ministerial committees have organised surprising field visits. In addition, anti-absenteeism measures have been applied strictly, displaying a tendency to reconsider educational reforms. However, the steps taken may backfire since they give little weight to the teachers themselves, even if they do stop short of accusations of accelerating education’s race to the bottom.

While recognising the importance of the sector, education reform projects in the kingdom rarely put teachers at the heart of the process. The focus and funds are devoted to curricula, learner-centred procedures and infrastructure, culminating in the launch of a High Council for Education. The importance of teachers’ rights and genuine reforms is marginalised.

Though controversy over educational reforms occurred as early as the country’s independence, teacher calamities started mainly back in the 1970s, when the late King Hassan II regarded schools as a source of political trouble.

To the regime’s dismay, social mobility indicated that state schools were producing a generation of democracy-seekers and denouncers of oligarchy, as if that was a disgrace for the country. As a result, teachers, especially left-wingers, were punished by imprisonment or forced disappearance. Yet, the whole teaching profession has been targeted with low salaries, heavy taxes, appointments far from home and poor working conditions.

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At the moment, teachers are being humiliated frequently. Recruitment has been considered to be more of a political than an educational opportunity. During the post-October 7 political deadlock, schools were pushed, especially on social media, to demonstrate their lack of adequate infrastructure to cater for the soaring numbers of pupils. Adding insult to injury in the wake of corrupt policies, the aim was to accuse the then head of the government, Abdelilah Benkiran, and his cabinet of neglecting educational reform. Teachers were left to tackle the dearth of human resources in their schools.

Since Saad Eddine Elothmani’s government first saw the light of day after the “blockage”, it has attempted to solve the teacher shortage as a matter of urgency. Thus, classrooms started to see untrained diploma-holders employed to fill the gaps. Perhaps the project to appoint large numbers of teachers was meant to support the expected government of Ilyas Elomari, but the 7 October election results dictated otherwise. Political strife has eclipsed the need for urgent intervention.

Today, the choice of appointing contract teachers seems to be strategic. With the never-ending need for more teachers, aggravated by the huge number of retirements, a new wave of teachers will join schools via the contract system. Uncertainty about job security in a time of economic stagnation and inflation creates a time bomb for some future social problem, as vulnerability fuels mobility.

Furthermore, teacher unions have been smothered slowly but surely. They have been attached to political parties, so their advocacy fluctuates according to their party’s relationship with the state. When the allied party is in office, union advocacy wanes, unlike when the party is in opposition. What’s more, a tradition in elite-making is that the state offers carrots to its opponents, before using the stick against those who are stubborn. Many union leaders preferred the carrot, leading to internal disputes and divisions. Teachers’ rights have been marginalised as a result. Teachers are also pushed to understand that unions are ineffective. The ministry passes laws, decides upon reforms and changes plans without taking unions seriously. Teachers formed national coordination groups to overcome union weaknesses, especially during the Arab Spring mobilisation. The unions agreed to mediate between the ministry and those groups, further splintering teacher advocacy.

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Furthermore, little care is given to teachers’ social situation. Despite the considerable taxes they pay, the medical care they receive is poor; teachers’ insurance is also moribund. When salary cuts are decided, resolutions are executed immediately, whereas salary increases are usually embroiled in lengthy and uncertain “social dialogue” meetings between the government, labour unions and employers. When teachers are assaulted in their classrooms, their legal protection is unclear. The ministry has resorted to issuing a circular reducing a student’s punishment to cleaning school toilets, brushing schoolyards or organising books in the library. The dignity of the teachers does not seem to be a priority on the ministry’s agenda.

In addition, the ministry itself mistreats teachers intentionally. It publicised a list of 611 teachers who were absent from work in September, for example. The potentially defamatory list, surprisingly, included teachers who had legitimate reasons for being absent, such as maternity or sickness leave. The calamity is aggravated by including wrong information such as being absent for 81 or 95 days in a month. Though the step is not applied to all ministry personnel, commentators, especially on social media, seized the opportunity to counter the propagandist infamy of teacher absenteeism. They compared 611 to the thousands of teachers who persevere in the sordid conditions in which the ministry expects them to work.

Hence, serious educational reform has, first of all, to pinpoint the real sources of corruption and mismanagement in the sector. In that case, the focus should shift from treating teachers simply as a workforce implementing government policies and blamed for setbacks, to viewing them as real partners whose dignity is the starting point for any genuine reform to take place.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.