Globally, online schooling is getting its moment due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Morocco, though, struggles to keep up. With an eye on the future, emergency remote education has quickly replaced normal classroom-based learning. Meanwhile, as crises usually do, the situation ruthlessly exposes enduring fragilities, not least the digital divide which mirrors far greater divides in terms of the Kingdom's social classes and geographical realities.
Indeed, international and national reports demonstrate Morocco's poor education performance. Despite ambitious reforms to facilitate access to education and improve facilities and quality, drop-out rates soar, and a great gap between goals and practices on the ground persists. The numbers in education in rural areas are low, and educational performance seems to deteriorate, while private education reinforces the existing social differences. With the government devoting 25 per cent of its 2019 budget to education, a governance problem must exist, not least waves of protests and strikes led by "contractual teachers", who work almost exclusively in rural areas, which pinpoint job insecurity and inequality.
As the pandemic situation in Morocco started to unfold in March, the government struggled to curb a potential outbreak and to cascade information about Covid-19's sinister impact on public life. To avoid uncontainable contamination in classrooms, schools and universities were and remain closed, while teachers, the Ministry of Education and parents have rushed to fill the void.
That decision creates its own difficulties. A primary problem has been the school system's inability to switch to online lessons without unnecessary delay. The move corresponds with an abrupt interruption in teaching activities for many students in the Kingdom, while inadequate infrastructure makes equality of opportunity hard to ensure.
The problem is not necessarily financial. Education reforms customarily recommend and promise digitisation, but its realisation on the ground has been faltering. The Charter for Education and Training (2002), the Emergency Plan (2009) and the Framework Law (2019) display not only awareness but also steps to digitise education. Nevertheless, many projects have succumbed to corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement.
Furthermore, halting schooling has a major impact on families. Added to future uncertainties are concerns about the vacuum in children's everyday life. Even those who are impoverished will keep buying online connection time so as not to penalise their children. Such an unexpected expense risks exhausting parents' already empty pockets without any guarantees about the outcome.
Moreover, for some poor families in densely-populated areas, school provides some respite for and from overcrowded homes, but this has suddenly disappeared. In such instances, enforced confinement may increase quarrels and domestic violence, especially if parents have lost their income due to the restrictive measures to curb the spread of the virus.
Adding insult to injury, the response of private schools has generally been disappointing. First, their lobby pledged financial help from a fund meant principally to mitigate the socioeconomic challenges of self-isolation. After public shaming, they apologised and contributed to the fund, but never stopped complaining. Secondly, private schools, unexpectedly, waited for the ministry to help them cope with the challenge of moving online. Furthermore, parents have complained about private schools' greed, since they asked them to pay for classes their kids do not receive.
The current drastic measures can generate consensus and trust, especially if the Education Ministry's effort brings equality of opportunity closer. However, there is first of all a need for tutorials for teachers. Skilled teachers were invited to record lessons for remote education via public platforms and TV, but to ensure that solid learning takes place it is usually and traditionally necessary for students to have direct contact with teachers, which a lack of adequate training hampers.
Equally, all students, more so in distant villages and impoverished zones in cities, require free Wi-Fi access. Internet service providers have enabled online access to public platforms for free. Their initiative, however, neglects the fact that so many teachers use WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom and YouTube for online lessons that costly internet upgrades are required.
Meanwhile, some local authorities and NGOs have distributed tablets and smart phones to students in need. Nevertheless, without more investment from the Ministry of Education, their efforts will not be enough, since civic solidarity has generally addressed families' need for food, rather than students' need for continuous learning.
At a deeper level, the current strictness in public expenditure must be maintained. The aim is to keep corrupt policymakers away from education planning and infrastructure projects.
Current developments also show the central contribution of the public sector that has been neglected for so long. The ministry's role is to rectify the negative discourse to which teachers in the public sector have been subjected over the past decade; build more public schools; and encourage parents to trust them.
Finally, investment in scientific research must be changed by future finance laws. By boosting its creative capital, Morocco will increasingly reduce dependence on having to import even basic goods. This will highlight further the importance of education for nation-building and ensure that the Kingdom is prepared for future crises, health or otherwise.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.