The general public in Morocco are familiar with the decline of educational standards, yet blaming teachers alone for the failure is common. Education personnel generally know that violence, drug-taking and cheating in examinations epitomise the deeper tension of reciprocal mistrust between schools and society. Such tension affects social cohesion directly.
However, the situation faced by educators in their classrooms is often eclipsed. Despite inadequate infrastructure, society’s gaze targets them for pupils’ shortcomings in knowledge, skills and values. This negative aspect is aggravated by families surrendering in the face of juvenile delinquency. Thus, the general public were surprised when a video went viral on social media showing a student assaulting his teacher.
The incident took place in a high school in the southern city of Ouarzazate. It came into public focus when the short video was shared on Facebook, to overcome the ubiquitous news about the 2017 CAF Champions League Final. Without delay, teachers, politicians and commentators started moaning about the situation inside classrooms.
Some commentators preferred to blame the teacher for the criminal act. They accused his weak personality, notoriety for insulting students and failure to report previous assaults; the videoed assault was not the first. The teacher is reported to suffer from some psychological problem, due to which he should have been granted early retirement.
Nevertheless, the accusations are refutable from different angles. First, the municipal delegation knew about that teacher’s particular circumstances and tried to help, but to no avail. Despite his notoriety, he was brought back to his high school, since soaring pupil numbers and poor infrastructure oblige education authorities to seek solutions beyond logical benchmarks.
Secondly, he was neither the first nor the last to be assaulted. Just one week after the incident, several similar attacks took place. In Rabat, for instance, a student forcibly entered a classroom too late; when the teacher refused to let him in, a chaotic fight occurred. The video again went viral, demonstrating a surge in violence against teachers. After being arrested by the police, the ministry decided to expel the delinquent student from school totally and issued a press release warning of strict measures against such assailants.
In another case, a young man assaulted a school director in Oulad Frej, south-west of Casablanca. He reportedly hit him with a screwdriver. The student was sent to jail as a result. In the same week, another student was put behind bars in Mahdia for assaulting his teacher after failing to justify his absenteeism.
Most importantly, though, justifying assaults on teachers jeopardises the role of schools. For their role within value systems, justifying attacks on teachers is similar to finding excuses for beating parents or elderly neighbours for some misunderstanding with youngsters. There is always a possibility that the victim may have been in the wrong, but has hitting them ever solved any problem?
Consequently, different state institutions condemned the assault in Ouarzazate immediately. The district delegation for education issued a press release to express firm determination to punish the pupil, including lodging a complaint for attacking a state employee while performing his duties. The regional academy also condemned the incident in grave terms, expressing readiness to take any measures to restore the traditional dignity of the teacher within all schools.
In addition, the president of the South-East region explained the ways that the student’s misbehaviour contradicts with the usual peacefulness of the people in Ouarzazate. He also criticised classmates’ passivity and called for a stricter legal response to school-centred violence.
Teacher unions seized the opportunity to call for a two-day strike, transcending the psychological hindrance of going on strike knowing that they would lose pay for doing so; the government introduced this measure in 2012. They shook off the image of being unable to put pressure on the government to take action in teachers’ favour. Thus, the ministry has allegedly decided to refrain from penalising teachers for this strike.
Teachers, therefore, took to the streets and organised sit-ins despite expecting salary cuts. Their two-day mobilisation demonstrated not only the suffering they face in classrooms but also the priority of dignity over income.
Solidarity with teachers and condemnation of violence against them can be found nationwide, but this will be temporary. Teachers will go into their classrooms to face different sorts of violence in the absence of systematic changes while public condemnation of assaults will be forgotten overnight.
Stopping school violence needs a more sustainable intervention from families, media and religious and legal institutions; it is needed badly. Families can cooperate with schools through visits or simply maintaining their educational roles. Religious institutions can contribute to mitigating the current situation through their moral role. The media, which rarely delves into educational problems and challenges, can help through talk shows or dramas that tackle school issues from different angles.
A multifaceted approach to the issue can make the difference in the attempt to restore the dignity of the teacher in Moroccan classrooms. Above all else, perhaps, serious change can start with improving teachers’ socio-economic situation.