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When we first arrived with our kids in Morocco, I had a single-minded vision: to get my children into a good school that would help their transition. So, as soon as we were settled, we started exploring schools and the school system. Although my husband is originally from Morocco, he left when he was 16, so he was really as unaware of the system as I was, at least from a parent’s point of view. All we knew for sure was that I wouldn’t be bringing my children to school with me. I teach at an American school, where all of the instruction is in English and one of our goals for our children was to learn French and Arabic while we are here, so we knew for sure that we wanted them to be in school in that taught in French and Arabic.
Here’s a little bit about what we learned about the education system in Morocco:
– The schools (and overall society) are tiered. The “best” private, most fancy (and expensive) schools teach almost exclusively in French or English, even though the official language of the country is a dialect of Arabic. Many of the students who attend these schools never truly learn Arabic fluently, because it is not seen to be an important language to know.
– The public schools teach almost exclusively in Arabic, and teach only a little bit of French. Since French is seen as a sign of being “educated”, anyone who can afford to not send their children to a public school does. The public schools are extremely underfunded, and often have 30 – 40 students in a classroom.
– In between the French schools and the public schools, there is a whole variety of “Moroccan Private Schools” which teach half in French and half in English. This is the system we decided to put our children in to.
When we first arrived in June, school had let out for us back in Georgia, but it was still in session here. So, when we were touring schools, we were very lucky to be able to see how the classes were set up. Even better, my children got to attend school for a week and get used to the system. Here are a few of the things we learned during that week:
– School lets out for lunch from 11:45 – 1:00, parents have to be there to pick their children up and then again to drop them off. Most kids go home and eat, although a few parents pay extra for kids to stay at the school.
– You must pack 2 snacks every day, one for morning session (8:30 – 11:45) and one for afternoon session (1:00 – 4:00) – and they do not have extra snacks if you forget. I didn’t know to pack a snack the first day and my younger son (then 3) was very upset that “all the others” were eating and he didn’t have anything.
– Students in first grade and up work only in pen – blue or black, green for corrections. We sent pencils with our oldest son, and he came home telling us he had all the wrong stuff!
– All grade levels (including pre-school – maternelle petit section) spend the entire time they are in class (outside of recess) in their seat. There is no such thing as centers or partner work.
– There are chalk boards in each classroom, not whiteboards. There is one bucket of books per classroom, and the kids never touch them. The computers are only found in the computer lab.
– You have to purchase your own text books – they are not provided for you. We didn’t purchase books for that one week, so they were photocopying stuff for my older son and gluing it into a notebook.
We went through some culture shock that week – and throughout the rest of this school year. My oldest son, Khalil, did not want to leave the English teacher’s side on the first day. We asked him to just sit in class, and not worry about learning – just sit. He did, and by the end of the week, he was talking to the other kids and there were little girls waving goodbye to him when we picked him up. He whined a lot when school started and thought everything was hard. He had done two years of school in the United States, and he missed calm, orderly classrooms and the center based activities. (The noise level here is different, I don’t know how to explain it, but in my classroom, it’s like everything is done on top volume, no matter what I do!)
We signed him up for tutoring to help his Arabic along, which meant 3 days a week, he stayed at school for an extra hour. I was worried about how hard we were pushing him for awhile, but he never complained and has grown to love Arabic. There are days he wants to speak Arabic more than he wants to speak English. In addition, he has matured so much! I don’t know how much of it is simply being a year older and how much of it is this whole experience, but he looks at life and academic work (even in English – which we keep up with at home) with a whole new perspective. He tells me that a lot of things are easier now, and I hope that it’s because he has gained all this new background knowledge. He writes about his experiences weekly on his blog: Traveling From a Kid’s Point of View.
My younger son, Zaiyd, did well during that first week, but struggled much harder during the actual school year. He went silent all together and didn’t talk to the teachers, although he did talk to the kids some. He told us that he didn’t learn anything, all he did was color and draw and that the teacher hit him. (The final statement brought out the crazy in me – and took me to his school for multiple visits before we finally concluded – and he admitted – that his teachers were not hitting him, or any other kids in his class. It does happen here in the older grades, but not in Maternelle, and not if you make it clear that your family is against it. It doesn’t hurt to play the “American” card either!) At home he asked constantly about when we were going back to Georgia. Then, about December, something clicked for Zaiyd. He started singing French songs at home, and counting in French. His brother was saying the days of the week in Arabic one day and stumbled on one – Zaiyd corrected him and was excited to be the one who was “right”. Then, he brought home three notebooks full of work he had done all school year and when he started showing us all he had learned, I was amazed at all he had done and learned. He no longer asks to go back to Georgia, and is excited to go to school here.
Now, we’ve been in Morocco for almost a year, and we’ve all learned a lot. There are goods and bads about the schools here, just like everywhere, but over all we are content. My boys are both speaking French and Arabic quite well. The older one is able to read in both. They have friends that they play with, and when we go to a playground, they are just as content to run around in Arabic, as they are in French and in English. There were moments this year, when I just hoped my kids wouldn’t hate me for putting them through this move. Now, I have moved on to an understanding of how happy I am with the experiences they have had – good and bad. Hopefully, one day we will all look back on this part of our lives as an exciting, life changing journey.
Kid World Citizen is starting a series of articles on real families who are embracing and incorporating cultures and languages into their lives. If you you would like to be featured, send us a note. We love learning how you teach your children about your culture, and from families who are multilingual, multicultural, or living abroad. Today’s post is written by Heidi Raki, a mother to Khalil (8), Zaiyd (4) and Samir (1), a wife, teacher, blogger, and resource designer. Last year, she and her husband packed up their three sons and moved from Powder Springs, Georgia, USA to Casablanca, Morocco. You can find her at her personal blog: Journey to Morocco and teaching blog: Raki’s Rad Resources or on Facebook or Twitter.