Ministry floats hybrid model for upcoming academic yearstatement issued by Morocco’s Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Professional Training on 24 August.
In-person education will see universities and authorities implement a set of preventative measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 including the wearing of facemasks inside classrooms, which will host a reduced number of students who must maintain social distancing. The ministry may adapt its approach depending on epidemiological developments.
The ministry’s statement indicated that students will start the pre-registration process through digital platforms to minimise the movement of prospective first-year students between provinces, regions and higher education institutions.
The ministry statement said the safe reopening of university residences was still under consideration.
Lack of clarity
Students have criticised the lack of clarity surrounding their return to studies. The National Union of Moroccan Students (NUMS) said in a statement that the ministry’s response created the erroneous impression that decisions about online learning could be “taken at any time” rather than form the substance of “a strategic choice that requires the provision of specific conditions including material, human and pedagogical conditions”.
NUMS said the ministry should adopt online education as a “transitional option” until the health situation stabilises but must attend to the provision of electronic devices and the technical means for all students “to ensure social justice and equal opportunities”.
On the issue of university residences, NUMS said enough time had passed for the ministry “to prepare this vital space and equip it” to receive students.
Yamina El Kirat El Allame, international adviser and consultant in the field of higher education and former vice dean for research and cooperation at the faculty of letters and human sciences of Mohammed V University of Rabat, Morocco, said the government’s plan to offer both contact and online classes was an unrealistic decision that did not take into consideration “the real situation of Moroccan education”.
“This decision will lead to a kind of messy situation which will put a lot of pressure on both the teaching staff and the students and their family members,” El Allame said.
“I wonder how we can think of in-person classes with limited numbers of students when we know that some groups can include hundreds of students in open access institutions … If we suppose that we are going to limit the number of students, it means that we need more teaching staff, more rooms, and more time slots,” El Allame said.
She said the Moroccan distance learning experience over the last spring semester “was not a real success”.
“Morocco does still not have the ICT capabilities to use online education even at universities,” she said.
According to Rosemary Salomone, professor of law at St John’s University in New York in the United States, students should be given the choice to decide which option to pursue – in-person or online – only if the government or university has the resources and has taken all the measures to provide a meaningful and safe experience in either model.
“I do not believe that students should be forced to take courses in-person given the severity of the pandemic and therefore should be allowed the option of remote learning,” said Salomone, who is writing a book on “global English, identity and linguistic justice” which includes a focus on Morocco.
“That being said, the choice becomes empty if the government or university fails to adequately train faculty in the skills they need to engage students remotely in a meaningful way and to provide ongoing technological support staff to help guide faculty through that process.”
Elizabeth Buckner, assistant professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto in Canada, and a former Fulbright scholar to Morocco, told University World News that while it was “great to see Morocco giving students some degree of choice and flexibility over their education”, teaching in ‘hybrid’ formats – especially if some students are in-person and others are distance – was “extremely difficult to do well”.
“We must remember that these changes put a lot of pressure on faculty members to adapt, and often with little time or support to do so,” Buckner said.
According to Statista, over 1.06 million students in universities and higher learning institutions have experienced disruption to their studies as a result of closures of Morocco’s higher education institutions amid the coronavirus pandemic.