As Ed Miliband and the Labour Party try to entice young voters with reduced tuition fees, Morocco’s youth are battling for more than the price of their education.
Huddled together under a covered sidewalk on a rainy winter’s day in Rabat, Morocco’s Capital, the youth have come together to discuss social and philosophical issues in public.
Impassioned voices cry out over the crowd of young Moroccan men and women, in a seamless mixture of French and Darija (Moroccan Arabic).
You might think a congregation of students like this wouldn’t warrant a second glance. But in Morocco, gatherings like these are bold political statements against a paranoid regime.
“The police said if we come back we will be beaten.” Nabil Belkabir, 23, explains: “Critical Thinking is not good for the stability of the regime.”
Nabil, a Rabat native, organises Philosophy in the Street as part of a “Popular University”. Influenced by similar concepts around the world, Nabil and his peers organise their public gatherings to encourage education reform and broaden access to ideas and knowledge in a country where many topics are still taboo.
“We discuss religion, sexual orientation, the broad concept of freedom. You can’t normally say these things in other contexts. If you talk about them with your parents or friends, the might react aggressively. When you do it in the street, you are allowed to have these reflections,” shares Nabil.
“Changing the education system is only a means for changing mentalities. The street is also a school.”
The young activist is also involved with the Union des étudiants pour le changement du système éducatif (UECSE-Union of Students for the change of the Education System), a pan-Moroccan student organisation intent of reforming the problems they see in their schools and universities.
Unlike the UK, where student activism revolves largely around high and rising tuition fees, public universities in Morocco are mostly free, and remain so thanks to the efforts of students who rallied against government efforts to introduce fees. The price of these institutions, however, does not reflect the slew of structural problems Moroccan students have to contend with as they pursue postsecondary education.
Nabil lists militarisation, linguistic policy, and the disparity between private and public institutions as the biggest problems facing Moroccan students today.
“When I go to school the last thing I should worry about is being beaten by a policeman. If you can’t put the theme of democracy inside schools, then you won’t be formed as a good citizen prepared to participate in the politics of your country,” he shares, citing the killing of student activist Mohammed Fizazi in February 2013 by Moroccan Police on his university campus as an instance of the militarisation of education.
Morocco’s colonial history has also created a unique linguistic situation, where Arabic and French intermingle in public institutions and daily life. Nabil explains that besides bringing up questions of identity and language, there are practical issues with the intermingling of languages:
“We have a two level [public education] system where you do Arabic until high school, then university has to be pursued in French. How can you make it in French when you’ve studied in Arabic?”
In turn, this problem relates to the issue posed by privatisation and private institutions. The wealthy are able to send their children to be educated entirely in French, within French-accredited private schools. Besides excluding large portions of society, Nabil believes private schools degrade confidence in the public system.
“Even if you don’t have high quality private schools, they can give you better grades and French, which will give you an advantage over others,” he says.
“Public universities are also really hard to get into,” Nabil continues. “You need high grades for the most interesting subjects, which in turn offer low employability. Many people have really high diplomas but cannot get jobs. If you don’t have a diploma at all, you’re more likely to get a job.”
Nabil sees the government as responsible for exasperating these problems:
“State disengagement from public schools, and the encouragement of private education means that people are losing faith in public schools .They don’t give them value, so private school gain value.”
And the issue extends beyond higher education:
“Pre-school is one hundred percent private. If you have money you go. It is direct segregation.”
Nabil and UECSE face an uphill battle on their path to reform. While they have made some successful partnerships at home with NGOs such as The Moroccan Coalition for Education for All and Moroccan Teachers’ unions, the Government has avoided direct communication so far.
And while Nabil feels international awareness can only help, he thinks help at home will be vital.
“We need the support from people here most of all.”