Promoting a Student School Life Culture

July 13, 2011


Dr. Abdelkader Ezzaki, ITQANE Deputy Chief of Party, during a visit to Creative’s Washington headquarters.

Even in Morocco where strong family traditions prevail, along with a national commitment that allots 25 percent of the country’s GDP to education, adolescents in the middle school years face immense challenges to completing school. These are the transition years; hormones are raging, boundaries are being explored and crucial dimensions on the pathway to establishing a stable identity and life direction are emerging.

“The middle school population is at a crossroads. They are adolescents and vulnerable,” said Abdelkader Ezzaki, Deputy Chief of Party of the ITQANE project, a USAID-funded education program that seeks to mitigate the critical factors causing middle school students to fail. “Middle school is a crucial time as it is a determinant of what direction an adolescent will pursue in terms of education and ultimately life,” said Ezzaki.

That said, in the 2009-2010 scholarly year, 380,000 students dropped out of school. And, in the 2008-2009 school term there were 859,000 repeaters. In sum, 1 in 5 Moroccan adolescents are drop-outs or school repeaters. These statistics have been worrisome enough for the Moroccan government to develop an Emergency Program for 2009-2012 to speed up education reform and improve education outcomes as dictated by Education Charter launched in 1999. ITQANE works within the education system to help the education ministry carry out reforms that will decrease the number of dropouts and school repeaters and improve student success rates.

Among these reforms is the commitment to promote a Vie Scolaire or school life culture which encourages participation in school clubs that provide kids with non-classroom activities where they can develop psycho-social skills, such as positive attitudes, sharing, listening, team work, and communication skills. These types of characteristics complement education instruction and help students identify the choices they must make to build lives. ITQANE hopes to help teachers develop skill sets that will further student culture by promoting learner-centered interactions that can help to identify a child’s interest and motivation to learn by doing. As such, the Vie Scolaire is a departure from Morocco’s primarily cognitive and rote learning tradition that rarely addresses adolescents’ psycho-social needs, and draws instead on directing students’ attention to also learning non-academic skills in creative way or learning collaboratively.

“When I was asked to participate in an initial club activity, I had no idea of the point of the exercise, but my school director insisted that I attend and, I thought to myself, I would not participate beyond the first session,” said Essaid El Ouarid, a professor at Lycée Ibn Abbad, an ITQANE target school. “Today, however, I feel privileged to have had the chance to participate in this excellent program that has immensely enriched me and enabled me to realize how simple things, actions, can lead to important changes for the students.”

A response to Morocco’s Emergency Program, the ITQANE project, or the Improving Training for Quality Advancement in National Education, is the latest project in USAID’s long-term investment in Morocco. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of State, ‘Morocco was the first country to establish diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States in 1777 and remains one of our oldest and closest allies in the region.’ In the past fifteen years, USAID has actively supported Morocco’s education sector and Creative Associates International has implemented several USAID-supported education projects bringing innovative and technically savvy interventions into the country. Among these interventions was the six year Morocco Education for Girls project, known as MEG, which integrated into its professional training modules Morocco’s first computer assisted teacher training program. Now, under ITQANE, some 21 teacher training modules developed over the last decade by various USAID implementers, including Creative, are being adapted for the teaching institutes to help make classroom instruction more flexible, and these modules are being transformed into e-learning training.

Young girl requesting permission to join school club.

“The need for training teachers is critical, especially middle school teachers — 60 percent of whom will retire in the next ten years,” said Kristen Potter, USAID’s education representative in Morocco. “This restructuring of teaching institutions and the focus on middle school students is an opportune moment for us [USAID and the Ministry of Education] to have real and lasting impact on the system.”

Beyond addressing cross cutting issues in the Program such as teacher education and an integrated youth strategy, both of which are critical to Morocco’s future, ITQANE’s other strength is its integration into the structure of Morocco’s Ministry of Education. This alignment of goals between ITQANE and the ministry bode well for the long-term continued impact of these interventions. In fact, the ministry contributes financially to some of the training interventions for teachers and school leaders, with the goal of improving performance in schools.

“International organizations bring not only resources but ideas to the Ministry of Education. For the education ministry, international projects are like the lungs within which the system breathes, opens up to new ideas,” said Ezzaki. “ITQANE is a masterpiece in reform, planning and design. It is a timely project, unlike others, it is a response to an institutional need from the MOE to support an ambitious program.”

Launched in April 2010, ITQANE now covers close to 200 middle schools in two pilot regions, Fez-Boulemane and Doukkala-Abda. In 2011, the project will extend interventions from middle schools in the two regions to selected provinces in another eleven regions. Formally apathetic towards school, students in the Vie Scolaire programs are reporting on its impact on them. “I did not know how to listen to others, which caused me many problems,” said a young boy at College Omar Ibn Khattab in Fez. “But, since I’ve been involved in these activities, my family has remarked that my attitude has changed; also, they [my family] too have changed their attitude towards me. So, I thought to myself that if I had received this guidance earlier, I would have avoided many problems. I hope that these activities will continue.”

ITQANE’s report card may not yet be ready for parents’ signatures, but anecdotal feedback from the team to teachers, students and school directors seems to bode well.

“Morocco needs several ITQANEs and more inspiration, faith and the dedication of everyone involved in education, especially teachers,” said Ezzaki. “You know, ITQANE, the acronym itself captures the essence and intelligence of the project’s goals. In Arabic, it means quality, mastery, excellence because we believe that this project is moved by values of quality, mastery, excellence and capability….a piece of the education culture we would like to provide, giving value to quality and for the sake of quality.”

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