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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is there Room for Innovation in Moroccan Educational System?

Paper presented at MATE 34th Annual Conference in Tangiers-Morocco , Jan, 2014

While developed countries are now finalizing a holistic approach and working strategy to institutionalize and standardize the status of Youth Work and Non-Formal Education Sectors, Morocco is still striving to devise an appropriate formula to heal the ills in its rather formal educational system, which suffers from long lasting vertebral handicaps, both structurally and philosophically. Within the MENA region, Moroccan budgetary spending on education is classified second after Saudi Arabia; yet, neither the quality nor the outcomes of the system do yield half of the highlighted goals; or meet the expectations of Morocco‘s educational community. In the realm of this predicament, can we still speak of innovation in education, at large, and in language teaching in specific in Morocco?

 If developed countries, with their outstanding educational systems, are busy trying to proactively engineer innovative solutions for both existing and yet-to-come handicaps, related to their educational system, can we, in Morocco, and in the MENA region, claim that we are striving the same endeavor, and on an equal footing? If we believe we are, the answer, in my opinion, triggers two conclusions: we are either lying to ourselves; or we are confusing innovation with other exercises, such as reformation, repairing, reconstruction, or even “bricolage.” Few decades ago, innovation might have meant different things to different communities.

With the advent of the speedy and savage information and communication technology, however, those societal and cultural differences are on going shrinkage, leading the way to an internationally and intercontinentally standardize educational system that does not leave much room for any lexical or ideological ambiguities. Yes, indeed, we are living in an era where geography matters less face to time, and where time is much more exponential than ever. Geography reached its demise upon the foundation of the 21st century third most populated country: Facebook. Available in more than 70 languages, with an average of 845 million active users per a month, FB today is the third largest country, behind China and India.

We are living in an exponential time wherein more than 31 billion searches are done on Google every month; two and a half million books are published every month, and the total number of phone messages sent and received every day exceeds the total population of the planet. In English language, there are now more than 540.000 words, which is five times as many as Shakespeare‘s time. The amount of technical information is doubling every two years, which means that for students starting a 4-year technical degree, half of what they learn in their first year of study will be outdated when they reach the 3rd year. Thus, to claim that we are innovative means that the speed of our educational system positively correlates with the speed of the technological and communication development; and to say this implies that our educational system already incorporates all these ICT intelligences.

 The fact, however, is that we have not managed first to make an effective use of what has already been innovated for us to improve the performances of our educational infrastructures, the productivity of our human capital, the efficacy of our managerial approaches, the teachability of our curricula, and the leadership, if any, of our students. The journey to an innovative educational system, our educational system, should first start accordingly by measuring the distance between where are standing now and where we want to go; because if we do not know where we are going we might end up somewhere else; and that place might be less pleasant than where we are now.

Second, we need to develop a working strategy based on concrete goals, guided within a determined timeframe, managed by well trained and well equipped human capital who are not only masters of theories, but also skilled at operationalizing thoughts into measurable actions. By human capital, I do not only mean educationalist and teaching communities, but more importantly experts from all walks of life. This, in itself, might be another challenging task for a society, as Morocco, which prides itself for giving birth to millions of good players, but is still sterile to deliver one, but, good team. Indeed, cross-sectoral collaborations and horizontal partnerships among the public and the private sectors, along with civil society need to synchronize their goals as well as their visions, and work for long-term synergies.

If educational system in Scandinavian countries tops international classifications, it is because these societies have embarked on two main convictions, which they have worked hard meticulously to actualize. On the one hand, their educational system includes various public, private, and civil society players who collaborate horizontally. On the other hand, their philosophy of education pursues a social constructivist approach that puts the system in service of the learner, and not the other way round. Third, and finally, we must train ourselves on accepting “CHANGE”, and start perceiving it as a normal, or indeed, as a necessary phase for the healthy life cycle of any social constituent. Because, in my opinion, innovation in education is nothing but an invitation to the collective imagination to bridging the gap from a life cycle stage to another; innovation in education, in this regard, is not a luxury but the rite of passage that ascertains the progressive transition of knowledge in such away that responses to the socio-economic, political, artistic, and aesthetic aspirations of a society.

 In conclusion, virtual education institutes such as Stanford, MIT, EPIC, among others, are pondering about ways and means for preparing students, in the near future, for jobs that are not yet existing, using technologies that have not been yet invented in order to solve problem we do not even know are problems yet. These students will not have to be physically in the USA, nor will they need to have thousands of dollars to sponsor their studies. All that they will need is a technological gadgetry and Internet access. In Europe, the EU’s research and innovation funding scheme Horizon 2020 has received €70 billion between 2014 and 2020 –Erasmus+, which supports student exchange programs between European universities. It also includes, for the first time, funding for staff, students and researchers to travel outside Europe and a pilot European Master’s Loan Guarantee Facility, which will provide loans at favorable rates for students pursuing master’s study in another European country.

Within the Erasmus+ framework, more than four million people will receive support to study, train, work or volunteer abroad, including two million higher education students. Both the American and European examples reveal that education and innovation in education are and will always remain precarious field of significant importance that cannot be solved by virtue of the Ministerial decision, but rather by virtue of a sustainable collaboration of different stakeholders, because “it takes a rock to blink a river in a pond; it takes quark to make a tsunami, and it takes a collection of educated people to make a change”

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