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Firm Reform Plans for Moribund System in Morocco
By Nizar Al-Aly, Inter Press Service
  RABAT, Mar 24 (IPS) - Finally, Morocco is planning sweeping changes to modernise its education system.
  King Mohammed VI, who has been pushing hard to propel his country forward since his ascension to the throne last July, recently called for an extraordinary session of the Moroccan Parliament to debate and endorse a national education strategy.
  The strategy, devised by a panel of governmental and independent experts appointed last year by the late King Hassan, is aimed at modernising the present educational system.

  For many years the country's education sector has been criticised as being outdated and unable to keep pace with the times. The critical situation is reflected by high unemployment and illiteracy rates.

  Unemployment, which affects almost everybody in Morocco from dock workers to doctors, is a high 54 percent among graduates of some specialities like engineering, while the national rate is 20 percent. Jobless doctors, engineers and doctorate holders regularly stage protests in front of the Parliament building on Rabat's main avenue to claim their constitutional right to employment.
  An estimated 55 percent of its 28 million people are illiterate -- putting Morocco lower than its Maghreban Union partners, Algeria and Tunisia, in the ranking by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  Education reforms, which will be implemented from the start of the new academic year in September, provides for the expansion of education, specially in the rural areas, consolidation of scientific research, changing curricula in schools and universities to meet the requirements of the job market and instituting a paying system for the country's rich layers.
  Morocco's socialist Prime Minister, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, told Parliament recently that ''compulsory education guarantees to all citizens the right of knowledge, in accordance with the teachings of Islam and with the UN convention on children's rights.'' Youssoufi pledged that his government would spare no effort to ensure to make education available to all Moroccan children aged between six and 15 years.'
   Figures disclosed by Moroccan National Education Minister, Smail Alaoui, at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, show that some 3,637,000 children below the age of seven were enrolled in schools -- a little less than half of these from rural areas.
  Tens of thousands of other children are deprived of their right to education, because of poverty and lack of basic infrastructure, especially in the remote areas. ''A considerable number of Moroccan households prefer to send their children to work instead of to school to contribute to the income of the family,'' says Najim Hilmi, a Rabat-based sociologist.
  Teachers in remote rural areas complain that schools are often located far from homes, discouraging parents from enrolling children. Those eager to be educated, have to often walk long distance, often in the mountains, to reach the school.
  The government's education department has announced it will build 2.714 schools in rural areas by the end of next summer. The introduction of new technologies like Internet in primary and high schools and fees for the rich are major shifts in education policy.
  The plan envisages computers in every Moroccan school. ''The move seeks to enhance the skills of pupils and to open new horizons for them,'' says Smail Alaoui.
  For this Morocco has signed an 800 million dollar contract with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to equip several schools with computers and to train teachers in the use of modern technology in education.
  Sociologist Hilmi sees the innovations as ''positive'', but urged the government to spend more money on education.
  Youssoufi announced in Parliament that the government will earmark 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product to education as of next year. During the extraordinary session Parliament will finalise plans to make the rich pay for secondary and university education.
  A study conducted by former education minister, Rachid Belmokhtar, showed that the wealthy benefited from 65 percent of education spending, compared 5.5 percent for the poor.
  Henceforth university scholarships will be extended only to gifted students from needy families under the new plans to raise education levels and standards in Morocco. So far every student collected 130 dollars every three months for university education.
  According to Hilmi, education reform ''is a battle that Moroccans have to win, if they want to survive in the new world environment and bring their country in line with the twenty-first century.''
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