[lg policy] The Spectrum of Language Choice for Moroccan Education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 1 15:45:47 UTC 2015

The Spectrum of Language Choice for Moroccan Education
 *Thursday 30 April 2015 - 07:01*
 [image: Abdellatif Zaki]
Abdellatif Zaki <http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/author/abdellatif-zaki/>
Abdellatif Zaki is a professor of Languages and Communication at Institut
Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco. He has taught
introductory courses to the study of the Koran and Islam as well as courses
on various intercultural issues. He has ...
 [image: The Spectrum of Language Choice for Moroccan Education]

Rabat – Two or three years ago, a colleague with whom I was hardly
acquainted called and asked me to join what he referred to as an elite
group of Moroccan Anglophone intellectuals and activists interested in the
linguistic situation of Morocco and eager to replace French with English as
the country’s second language. He said, not without some pride, that many
leading intellectuals and influential political, economic, and educational
figures who could weigh heavily on the linguistic situation of the Kingdom
would be of the party. He added that the initiative had received the
blessings of the United States and the United Kingdom.

He apologized for having included me on the list of an international
conference program that was to be held in two days without my prior
consent. I thanked him profusely and told him that I would be delighted to
participate in this conference, but only as a citizen, and not on behalf of
the non-governmental organization he was expecting me to participate on
behalf of; an organization that he seemed to think had the main goal of
spreading the English language in the country. I explained to the colleague
that the organization had professional objectives and was aimed at
supporting the teaching of English as a foreign language and of providing
all those involved in the profession with quality services.

I further explained that the organization aimed at optimizing the
efficiency of pedagogical offers, both directly through professional
development and indirectly through promoting scientific research and
publishing in related subject areas. As the colleague had, obviously, a
completely different conception of an organization he had hoped would
support his mission, I made a point to stress the fact that although the
organization maintained a long history of good-standing cooperation and
working relations with the British and American cultural authorities, which
it holds in high esteem, it was also keen to maintain its freedom and to
preserve its independence. I wanted him to know that although the
organization strives to give a voice to English language teachers in the
country, it would never compromise what it takes to be national priorities,
nor will it negotiate what it takes to be the foundations of Morocco’s
identity or indulge in any undertaking that would jeopardize it.

On the eve of the conference, I made it clear to the colleague that I
considered neither French nor English as close relatives of mine. None was
my mother tongue, nor did I think of myself as a militant combatting for
the prevalence of either, and that I used both equally for professional
purposes, and that I did not see any need to substitute one for the other.
My idea was that the Moroccan educational system has specific uses for
each. Shortly after this conversation, the colleague called me again to
inform me that my name had been dropped from the list of speakers at the
seminar. His excuse was that he had not received the abstract of my
presentation. Diplomatically, he suggested that I was welcome to attend the
event and participate in the debate if I so wished.

For the record, I would like to mention that I do not find the merciless
war between the French and English languages on the Moroccan educational
scene as very different from the conflict between the international powers
during the early years of the 20th century, which paved the way to the
colonization of the Kingdom, to which the euphemistic label of
‘protectorate’ was given.

I would like to remind the reader of an important principle in
sociolinguistics and historical linguistics: on one hand, languages and
varieties of the same language strive to preserve their status within their
original community and behave, on the other hand, as if they were in a dire
need to prevail over others, and to spread beyond their natural habitat,
and to gain more of an influential status where they previously did not
have any. This puts languages in constant conflict with one another,
competing for the same privileges and to occupy new grounds in politics,
economy, religion, and culture that were once held by others.

Thus, some nations and social groups have considered their languages to be
productive factors to be employed in their speakers’ political, economic
and commercial relations, and people have come to rely on them for
establishing an ideological hegemony. Likewise, many countries have
depended on their languages as pivotal elements for the construction of
their identities, and have used them as important tools for the
conceptualization of their perceptions of themselves as well as of the
images they present of themselves to the world. In the same vein, several
communities have used and are still using their languages to maintain their
status among other social groups and nations. Let us reflect on the
following: language is an arena in which all critical conflicts in a given
society are fought. In Morocco, the issue of language and language choice
has been turned into a field in which the country is cornered, to be
subjected to different types of extremely competitive cultural,
intellectual, political, and economic pressures and influences.

In Britain, for instance, the English language is considered to be a
complex and multidimensional product, which is at times imposed upon other
nations through various colonial mechanisms and, at other times, through
commercial and advertising methods and through subtle cultural hegemonic
strategies. This is done using a unique network in the domain of
commercializing English language instruction and serving the strategic
objective of spreading it. The network consists of a huge number of
‘cultural’ centers that actually function as focal points of a stock market
that benefits from the direct financial, diplomatic, political, and
military support of the state. They are also supported by very powerful
government-subsidized global services and industries such as publishing,
language teaching, higher education, training, the arts, the economy, and
culture. The English language sector has thus grown to become one of the
top 6 or 7 industries in the UK. Its income amounts to billions of pounds,
more than many heavy traditional industries.

In other words, talking about the English language is exactly like talking
about an industrial or commercial commodity or service. It is similar to
talking about an electronic device, a vehicle, an aircraft engine, a soft
drink, a warplane, a cruise missile, or a bullet. The United Kingdom’s
Ministry in charge of Education determined that the amount of money foreign
students spend in the various schools and universities in the UK has
exceeded £10 billion in 2012, 3 billion of which coming directly from the
English language instruction industry. The figure does not include the huge
amounts of money collected in the many Council Centres scattered all over
the world. This example is mentioned only for the purpose of clarifying
things for those amongst us who might still be under the impression that
the support of the English language by some consular services and
assimilated charities has only altruistic and generous objectives. The
gains may be far more complex, but not much less visible to the naked eye
if one takes the time to look closely!

Moreover, when one talks about countries intervening to spread their
languages in a certain domain or foreign country, one is actually talking
about hegemony and of a sort of interference at levels that are far from
being purely linguistic. A sign that heralds a new colonization episode is
when, for example, a simple employee in one of these language centers
acquires sufficient authority to influence a Minister’s decision, or when
he takes the liberty to interfere in a country’s policy by pushing for the
urgency of granting priority to his own language. An even more sinister
sign is when such an employee, as is unfortunately very common to see, is
heeded much more than the country’s prominent linguists, researchers,
university chancellors, and deans. The Moroccan adage goes, “expect the
apocalypse when matters are conceded to those with no qualifications to
address them…” The first and central qualification here is being a national
of the Kingdom.

A large number of researchers have centered their research around English
linguistic imperialism, its secrets, its hegemonic mechanisms, and its
impact on the world’s culture, ideology, religion, finance, and economy.
These studies reveal opportunistic and racist features of the English
language that exceed those of other colonial languages like French or
Spanish. Those interested in this scientific debate can run bibliographic
searches with key words like “language and hegemony,” “linguistic
imperialism,” “English and hegemony,” “English and racism,” “language
policy” or “language planning” to strike a mine of information on the topic.

This is not to give the impression that this research is of an extremist or
militant nature. It has to be noted that these studies are written in
English and have been conducted by highly proficient Scandinavian,
European, and North American linguists. Many courses based in this research
are taught in these countries’ most famous and well-established
universities. Pioneering studies and research has also been conducted in
the area by African and Indian researchers. Those advocating the rejection
of French and its replacement with English in Morocco because French is of
a colonial nature need to investigate the imperialist and racist nature of
English as discussed and documented in this relevant literature before they
make up their mind or launch their marketing campaign promoting the virtues
of the English language.

Anyone who prioritizes English over French in the current Moroccan
educational system on the basis that French is a colonial language should
recall these facts. Both languages are colonial. Some scientific research
shows, however, that the hegemony of the English language is much more
severe than that of any other language, as evidenced by the military,
financial, economic, and political hegemony of the UK and the US and their
allies, especially in the so-called Arab and Islamic world. All those
pushing for the English language in Morocco should know that the two
languages are waging a war, and are engaged in many conflicts that
Moroccans have no reason to take sides in or to take part in. The Moroccan
elite, to which my colleague seemed to be so proud to belong to, should not
subject the people of the country to a new colonization and hegemony for
such a cheap price. The US and the UK invest billions of dollars in this
war, most of it goes to creating new alliances by all possible means, which
are needless to reveal here.

Some of the questions supporters of the English language alternative do not
seem to be sensitive to include the feasibility of shifting to English in
the Moroccan educational system after it has invested so much in the
Arabization of its primary and secondary levels while continuing to
maintain French in higher technical and scientific education without
compromising the status of other foreign languages, including English.
Since its independence, Morocco has invested huge amounts of precious time,
funds, energy, intelligence, and imagination in training teachers in these
two languages, which, despite all these efforts, are still said to lack.
How then, all of a sudden, can the country change its language of
instruction to a language most of her teachers, who have been trained in
Arabic and French, do not understand? Are the teachers who teach sciences
and mathematics in Arabic in primary and secondary levels and in French in
universities now to be asked to switch to English to teach? Would there be
any other unfair requests? Is this not pure disregard and contempt towards
these professionals, and would it not be committing the worst injustice to
the students and to the country?

Or is the pretension to give a generation of English language all the
skills, competences, and tools they need to perform the transition and
secure the objective of rooting English in the system in a blink of an eye,
knowing that the venture of qualifying teachers in Arabic and French has
hardly achieved its objectives in more than fifty years? Does the country
have qualified experts who are able to write course books and educational
supporting materials in all school subjects in the English language, and
are the country’s libraries able to provide the resources needed for this
tremendous task? Does the country have trainers, school inspectors, and
supervisors who are qualified to coach teachers in this language? Or do
they plan on importing all this expertise and materials from the US and the
UK with loans? If this option is chosen, it would have to be called
something like ‘new colonialism’.

It is a lie to claim that the transition from one secondary language to
another can be carried out smoothly without affecting additional
generations of poor children. The transition would disqualify them from
mainstream development opportunities and from socioeconomic mobility. It
cannot be done without great pain and sociopolitical and cultural injury,
or without creating wide and unbridgeable intellectual and cultural gaps
and huge losses of current assets.

A traitor to his own people and a liar is he who claims that education and
knowledge will spread and become equally accessible to all Moroccans
through any language other than their mother tongues. Morocco will never be
a developed, independent, and scientific country without providing
fundamental education to all of its people in their own mother tongues.
Those who are truly concerned about the future of this country should
deploy their intelligence, expertise, experience, and wisdom to adapt
strategies that would allow the native languages of Morocco to facilitate
(i) the design of suitable curricula, (ii) the invention of appropriate
pedagogical approaches, (iii) the learning and also the generation of
relevant knowledge, (iv) the mastery of critical skills, (v) the production
of innovative ideas, and (vi) the development of the creative competencies
needed for the solution of the country’s problems.

Second and third foreign languages are undoubtedly important, and should be
made accessible to all learners when they need them. They should be
considered as tools to invest in to meet well-defined specific needs and
purposes, but should not be given priority over other subjects in students’
primary and secondary education. In fact, the need for second or third
foreign language varies from one field to another, and from one educational
level to another. There is no need for English for a well-qualified
accountant, a good surgeon, a creative architect, or a secondary school
teacher of law, history, philosophy, music, or any other subject. English
may be useful in fields such as tourism, the hotel industry, and banking.

The importance of this language cannot be neglected for those specializing
in advanced scientific research, international diplomacy, trade, military,
and civil aviation, or merchant shipping vocations. These crafts will
require their practitioners to learn English and therefore the capacity and
the skills of teaching it in the best ways and at the least cost. But to
adopt English in the first years of instruction would not only be a waste
of time, energy, and money, it will be at the expense of other more
critical skills and competencies. It would seem to be more natural in the
earlier years of the educational system for Morocco to invest in building
native language capacities, strengthening the status of the national
languages, and optimizing the quality of their teaching. Investment
priorities should be on basic cognitive skills in maths, physics,
chemistry, biology, physical training, and critical thinking aptitudes.

The main question to be asked is for whom this country is training her
children. Is it for Morocco, its people, and its national economic
development? Some colleagues argue that it is easier for university
graduates to find jobs abroad if they are fluent in English. My answer is
that this is absolutely true, but as a Moroccan citizen I refuse to see
Morocco’s money placed in training qualified engineers, senior directors,
and managers for Canada, the United States, China, or Europe. Those who
want to emigrate and work in these parts of the world should then purchase
the language education they need for those ‘specific markets’ or centers
and pay for them out of their pocket. They should not spend Morocco’s tax
money paid by Morocco’s poor, its merchants, its civil servants, and its
citizens who choose to invest in the economy and industry of their country.
I also find it quite immoral for the country to invest money it borrows
with high interest rates on training skilled manpower that will return to
the very same countries that lent Morocco the money.

A similar excuse I have seen with is that Morocco needs to attract foreign
investment and multinational corporations, and that they consider English
an important factor in choosing countries they settle in. This, it is
argued, is a good enough argument to convince Morocco to teach this
language. To answer this claim, I would like to say that teaching English
as a foreign language is one thing, and having it replace another language
is something else. Furthermore, the current curriculum of Moroccan public
schools can provide high school graduates with such English language
proficiency that can be further fine-tuned to a higher competency when and
if needed. Moreover, Morocco will benefit more from strengthening its
multi-linguistic capital, adding to it rather than reducing its potential,
shaking her stability, and incurring a great loss.

Whatever the language(s) Morocco ends up choosing for specific purposes,
the decision-making process should be grounded in the theoretical framework
in which foreign language courses are designed and their multi-layer
dimensions. It must be certain that the hegemonic cultural,
communicational, pragmatic, colonial, racist, and imperial dimensions are
accounted for and managed when the decision is made. In fact, every foreign
language course should be supported by a pedagogy of critical thinking and
the evaluation of opinions, attitudes, perceptions, situations, and
behaviors associated with it. If the goal is to enable all those who want
to learn English with the skills they need, there should be more than one
methodological option to serve this purpose without replacing, amputating,
or creating clashes and confusions. Should the purpose be something else,
and the true goals be hidden or unstated, the issue will clearly be of a
different nature.


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