Plans afoot to include Tamazight as language of learning

In a bid to foster unity among the people of Morocco while also protecting the country’s cultural diversity, the government has announced plans to integrate the history, language and culture of the Amazigh, a group formerly known as the Berbers, into the teaching and research programmes at some universities.

However, experts have warned that sustained commitment from the government, educators and the broader community will be necessary, in particular given the educational and financial demands the initiative will require.

The plans were outlined by Abdellatif Miraoui, the minister of higher education, scientific research and innovation in Morocco, during a session of parliament’s House of Representatives on 9 September.

The move to integrate Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh (singular) or Imazighen group, into Morocco’s university system, is in line with the 2011 constitutional recognition of Tamazight as an official language and the Moroccan government announcement that it would introduce Tamazight in political and administrative life and public services – areas until now reserved for Arabic and French.

Pool of speakers has shrunk

The Amazigh people are the indigenous inhabitants of North African countries including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, northern Mali, northern Niger and part of western Egypt, according to the historical records of the region.

Although most Moroccans are of Amazigh descent, only a quarter of the population still speak the language as people left Amazigh-speaking rural regions over the years for bigger cities where local dialects of Arabic are the lingua franca.

Tamazight is currently barely taught in schools and universities.

An August 2022 study titled, ‘Amazigh Language in Education Policy and Planning in Morocco: Effects of the gap between macro and micro levels of planning’, indicated that only 5% of schools include the language in their education.

The implementation of Amazigh studies in Moroccan universities has also been limited.

Agadir University was the first to offer degrees in Tamazight in 2006, followed by universities in Oujda, Nador, Rabat, Casablanca, Aïn Chock and Fès, according to a February 2023 article titled, ‘Revitalizing Tamazight: The role of language education policies in Morocco’ which also noted that training centres for teachers exist in Tangier, Casablanca, Marrakech, Agadir and Nador.

Thus, the set of measures designed to facilitate the incorporation of Tamazight into the Moroccan university curriculum focuses on the introduction of Tamazight courses at various academic levels.

What the plans entail

Under the plan, five courses in Tamazight and on the Amazigh culture will be incorporated into the bachelor degree in basic studies and will be added at masters degree level.

Also, students pursuing bachelor degrees in education will have access to 14 courses dedicated to the Amazigh language and culture.

A national model course in an education bachelor degree, specialising in primary education with a focus on using Tamazight as a language of teaching and learning, will be introduced in Berrechid and Agadir universities in the next academic year.

The production of skilled teachers will help to overcome the barriers to implementing Tamazight in primary schools and the effects [the lack of its use as a medium of instruction] it has on pupils’ academic achievement, according to a 2023 study titled, ‘The challenges of Amazigh in education in Morocco’.

Besides setting up training units on Amazigh history, language and culture at Berrechid and Agadir universities, some research structures related to the Amazigh culture will also be established.

Perspectives from within academia

Dr Abdennasser Naji, a former adviser to the minister of higher education and president of the Amaquen Institute, an education think tank in Rabat, Morocco, told University World News: “It is a positive step in the right direction that will help in broadening the teaching of the Amazigh language in all Moroccan universities as well as dealing with the lack of qualified human resources, which is a big challenge to the development of the departments of Amazigh.”

This is supported by the 2022 study titled, ‘The evolution of the status and teaching of Amazigh in Morocco: From marginalisation to institutionalisation’ which stated that, “The Amazigh teaching experience remains considerably limited in the educational system, which could primarily be attributed to the lack of trained teachers …”

However, Naji added: “It will be difficult to achieve the objective of integrating all universities because the financial and educational needs are enormous.

“The Moroccan initiative for the revitalisation of the Amazigh language through universities and higher education institutions could become an educational model for other universities located in North African countries where Amazighs are the indigenous inhabitants,” he said.

Expanding further, Dr Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, told University World News: “Incorporating Tamazight into the university education system is an important initiative for Morocco that might face many pedagogical and logistics challenges.

“It does not only promote cultural diversity but also aligns with global trends in recognising and valuing indigenous languages and cultures. It needs studies regarding the curriculum, the script itself, and teacher training.

“To succeed in this initiative, sustained commitment from the government, educators and the broader community is essential,” Benahnia warned.

“Perhaps this approach can serve as a model for other African countries seeking to preserve their linguistic and cultural diversity while fostering unity,” he said.