Cablegate: Broken Educational System Offers No Easy Fixes


DE RUEHRB #0127/01 0391700
R 081700Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Sensitive but Unclassified - entire text.

2. (SBU) Summary: The backdrop to our efforts to negotiate a
bilateral agreement on American schools in Morocco is a
national education system that is widely believed to be
broken beyond repair. This grim reality was highlighted in
this week's World Bank report on education in the Middle East
and North Africa. While attendance at primary school is up
significantly following years of concerted efforts, retention
of students in later years is poor, so that only 13 percent
of Moroccan students finish high school. Spending is well
below regional averages at 525 USD per student, despite
significant increases over the past 20 years. If the
diagnosis of the system's failure is not in doubt, as was
evident in Prime Minister El Fassi's observation this week
that the World Bank study conveyed "nothing new," solutions
remain elusive. What is clear is that Morocco's poor
education system limits social mobility, exacerbating social
tensions and increasing disparities in income distribution.
End Summary.

3. (U) The World Bank's report on education in the MENA
region, released earlier this week, confirmed once again that
Morocco is lagging badly behind its peers in the educational
realm, a reality that has been widely conceded for years, but
that no government has yet been able to address effectively.
The report showed that on issues ranging from access to
education to gender equality and exam results, Morocco is
well behind other countries in the region, including Tunisia
and Jordan.

4. (U) Recent workshops in Rabat confirm the diagnosis, and
offer other alarming insights into the state of Moroccan
education. Of 100 students who enter primary school,
statistics show only 13 will pass the baccalaureate exam (and
only 3 of the 13 will do so on their first try). The median
length of school attendance is only 5 years, well short of
the 10-12 year median elsewhere in the region. Thus, school
attendance drops to 74.5 percent by the age of 14, and to 48
percent by the final years of high school. Only 12 of 100
students will go on to higher education, but of that group
only between 4 and 10 percent will ultimately complete a
degree. The discouragement of such students is
understandable, however, as unemployment rates are highest
among the most educated groups in the country: 30 percent for
those who completed the baccalaureate, but 45 percent for
those who have a university diploma.

5. (U) Of equal or greater concern is the failure of students
to master basic skills. A study carried out through the
"Education For All" program showed that only 16 percent of
students in the fourth year of primary school had mastered
their course material, a failure rate of over 80 percent. In
some cities the rate was even worse, most notably in Ifrane,
where the success rate was only 0.7 percent. Scores on
international exams confirm the poor results-- Moroccan
students placed last of 25 countries in this age group in
mathematics, and 24th on science. In a separate exam,
students placed 43rd out of 45 countries in reading, with
only 25 percent of students attaining the minimum score
required for their age group.

6. (U) Looking at this overall picture, Education Minister
Ahmed Akhchichine last month characterized the overall state
of Moroccan education as "disastrous," notwithstanding
improvement in headline figures such as the percentage of
students attending primary school, particularly in rural
areas. Critics attribute this failure to poor school
facilities and materials, noting that Morocco only spends 525
dollars per pupil per year, compared to 1342 dollars in
Tunisia (though only 612 in Turkey). They also flag the
failure to attract, motivate, and retain talented teachers.
Teachers, they note, are inadequately trained, poorly paid,
and lack motivation. Many go into teaching as a last resort,
since they cannot find other jobs. While discussion has
centered on the need to retrain this teaching corps, the
government has yet to produce a plan to that effect.
Instead, business as usual has continued, with announcement
in early February that the Education Ministry will recruit
1100 new teachers from the ranks of unemployed graduates.
The news prompted a scathing editorial from the business
daily "L'Economiste," arguing that "the majority of these
unemployed graduates are not adapted to the imperatives of
development in Morocco" and will "scrupulously reproduce" the
failure evident in the poor test results in Ifrane.
7. (U) Despite the increasing attention to the problem, the
government has yet to show its hand on school reform. Prime
Minister El Fassi told the press on February 7 that the World
Bank study "did not contain anything new," and that the
government is already aware of the system's shortcomings,
including dilapidated infrastructure, continuing problems
with access, and failure to prepare graduates for the working
world. The Prime Minister admitted that "radical reform" is
required, and said that proposals would be forthcoming after
completion of an ongoing study of the sector. (Minister
Akhchichine separately indicated that the new reform
initiative could be made public as early as March.)

8. (U) For his part, Royal Advisor Meziane Belfkih, who was
specifically charged by the King with overseeing education
reform and has as much or more influence than the Minister
himself, has floated several proposals, including seeking to
raise school attendance to 95 percent by 2014 and to make it
mandatory until the age of 15. He has also suggested that
the private sector needs to shoulder more of the load in
basic education. That system has expanded significantly and
now represents over 8 percent of student enrollment, but he
suggests that percentage should more than double to 20
percent. Accomplishment of this objective, in Akhchichine's
view, however, will require development of an economic model
for private education different from that which currently
exists. Both concede the need to address issues relating to
teacher quality, and note that a survey of 2000 teachers is
currently being conducted, and should be completed by the

9. (SBU) Complicating the government's situation is the fact
that that the obvious solutions of increased spending and
enlarged access have already been undertaken. A recent
evaluation by the Centre Marocain de Conjoncture noted that
spending on education increased an average of 6 percent from
1990 to 2005, or 3 percent in real terms, with the total
(which increased from 11.2 to 26.8 billion MAD) representing
an average of 24 to 26 percent of government spending each
year. This represented 5.9 percent of GDP in 2005, 9.3
percent of GDP when university and private education are
factored in. This resulted in increased attendance at the
primary level in particular, up from 54 to 92 percent
overall, and from 39 to 88 percent in rural areas. During
that period, over 8000 new schools were put into service, and
the ranks of teachers were augmented at a rate of 2.7 percent
per year.

10. (SBU) Government reform promises thus continue to
engender widespread scepticism. It is notable that Morocco's
principal business lobbying group, the Cassablanca-based
Confederation Generale des Entreprises du Maroc (CGEM),
steered clear of the subject in its key reform
recommendations to the El Fassi government. The group's
Secretary-General told us the decision was strategic: The

group concedes that education reform is urgently needed, but
believes that if it had focused on the larger problems of
education, its recommendations would have been "put in a
drawer and ignored." By focusing on retraining programs to
"correct the shortcomings" of the educational system,
however, it believes it has an opportunity to secure action
in the short to medium term.

11. (SBU) Comment: CGEM's ability to focus on a particular
sub-facet of the education issue is a luxury neither Morocco
nor its government enjoys. All admit that the failure of
Morocco's education system to prepare the country's younger
generations for the challenges of a global economy is a key
constraint on Morocco's economic development, and it must be
addressed urgently. In addition, as a constraint to
mobility, it has the potential to exacerbate social tensions
linked to growing disparities of wealth. All eyes are on the
government to outline its plan of action to tackle the
problem and El Fassi and his team will be judged in no small
measure on what they are able to accomplish. To date,
however, successive Moroccan governments have shown only a
limited capacity to address the ongoing education crisis, and
we see no sign that this has changed. End Summary.

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