On the Ground: Education in Morocco

In order to get back to Morocco, I’ve been working with my school on developing a research project I can conduct in Morocco over the course of this upcoming summer. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I want this project to evolve out of helping Walid, and to helping as many people as possible. I plan to do this by earning my PhD in political science and researching economic development. For me, I started down this path my freshman year of college when I read Poor EconomicsI have been a little preoccupied with researching a topic and framing it, but I wanted to share a little bit with what I have found and how it relates to Walid. Today, I want to look at education.

First, let’s establish Morocco’s current economic situation. According to the World Bank, a country is considered developing if its gross national income (GNI) per capita is less than US$ 11,095. Morocco has a GNI per capita of US$ 3,030 as of 2013. This is not as severe as a countries like Malawi and Burundi (US$ 270 and 280 respectively), nor nowhere close to the heights of developed countries like the US, Canada, and the UK (US$ 53,670; 52,200; and 39,140). Thus, Morocco is often considered a lower middle-income country (which is not to say that it is developed, it has not yet met that classification).

Literacy is perhaps the most minimal definition of education, and generally a basic human right. It is the means by which lifelong learning can occur, and an individual can come to improve their income, health, and their relationship with the world around them. Literacy in Morocco is defined as being over the age of 15 with the capacity to read and write. Morocco rests at 67% literacy (as of 2011) with 76.1% of men and 57.6% of women classified as literate. This number is not as abysmal as Afghanistan’s 28.1% literacy (last estimated in 2000) with 43.1% of men and 12.6% women, but it is quite stark compared to the developed world (the US is sitting at an even 99% split across both genders). Literacy is not the best measure of a country’s education, but it is a good comparison measure for educational levels across countries (it is also a good indicator of the presence of gender inequality as well, i.e. if men and women do not have similar levels of literacy that country, as a whole, probably does not treat men and women equally).

So much like GNI per capita, Morocco sits a bit in the middle-to-low range of literacy for all countries. These statistics, together, help to create the image of Morocco’s current development standing. Morocco is best described in my mind as “middling,” there are many more worse case scenarios, developmentally, than Morocco, but there are also many more better developed countries as well. The problem then, is looking at a country like Morocco and saying that it is doing “pretty well.” Compared to some of the worse development cases in the world, it is doing “pretty well.” But if we isolate the statistics and take them out of the context of comparison, the numbers look far more “real.” Just over two-thirds of Moroccans over the age of 15 can read and write. Just over three-quarters of men can read and write, and less than two-thirds of women can read write. There is almost a 20% difference between the proportion of women that are literate versus the proportion of men. These numbers are dire, even given the progress that has been made to reduce illiteracy across the globe (for more information on these strides towards global literacy check out information concerning the UN Literacy Decade that will have ended two years ago at the end of December).

While the institutional quality of education is hard to quantify and compare, what statistics do exist suggest that Morocco has increasingly improved their education system from even a decade ago. The World Bank reports on some of these numbers. Over the course of the last decade, thanks in large part to a concentrated effort by the Moroccan government, enrollment rates have increased greatly: The number of primary students enrolled has rose from 52.4% to 98.2%, lower secondary (middle) school enrollment rose from 17.5 percent to 56.4%, while upper secondary school enrollment rose from 6.1% to 32.4%.Progress has also been made in gender equality in primary education with the difference in enrollment between urban boys (the highest percentage) and rural girls (the lowest percentage) narrowing to 3.5%. However, at the lower secondary level this statistic does not hold as 79% of urban boys are enrolled versus 26% of rural girls.

While enrollment is a huge issue, this says nothing to educational quality. The largest line of thinking in development literature concerns institutional quality, that is to say that the functions of the government. If a country has a corrupt police force, there is likely to be a higher crime rate, thus development scholars believe that increasing the quality of institutions will help grease the wheels for unhampered development. Unfortunately, the World Bank has found that despite rising enrollment rates, the quality of the public education system in Morocco is still low. When given an international standardized test, only 74% of Grade 4 Moroccans met the lowest mathematics score, and none met the highest benchmark. With all the being said, education is still one of the most important stated development goals of the Moroccan government. Last August, King Mohammad VI voiced his concern over the ground still left to cover, despite the significant progress, creating the Higher Council for Education to ensure policy is effective in enhancing education.

The long term goal of Feeding Walid is to eventually reach the capacity by which we can do our part to increase the institutional quality of education in Morocco, but we fail to ever live in the long term. In the short term, we have Walid, another statistic. And let’s take him in that context.

Walid, like many kids, was able to make it through primary school well enough. Like in the US ages for primary school range from around 6 to 12 (1st to 6th grades). We was a part of that 98.2%. It is in middle school, or lower secondary school, that his life began to turn around. For a time, he was part of the just over half, the 56.4%, that enrolled in middle school, but as his story reflects, he had to put his education on hold as extenuating circumstances overtook his ability to educate himself. Now, though, we can help him. He is working towards completing middle school, and he wants to become part of a Moroccan minority: The less than one-third that even enroll in upper secondary education. As of the most recent census, 85% of Americans at least have their high school diploma. Less than one-third of Moroccans even enroll in high school, much less complete it.

Education is one of the most important keys to economic growth. W.W. Rostow labels education as one of the pre-conditions for a developing economy’s “take-off.” Nancy Birdsall and Richard Sabot compared the benefits in concentrated investments in education, done by developing East Asian countries, compared to low or stagnating investment in Latin American countries. They found that this concentration in investment rapidly spurred economic growth and reduced inequality in East Asia compared to the sluggish development of Latin American countries.

The take-away is this: Morocco is making great strides in improving its economy and its development. The country is far from a worse case scenario, and it becoming another beacon of hope in a region desolated by worse case scenarios. But that does not mean that it can be ignored. It doesn’t matter how fast Morocco grows, for people like Walid, they already have the raw-end of the deal. Without our help, he will be part of the baggage Morocco must lug on its way to progress. And I cannot let that happen. I have said it many times, but I hope to one day be in a position where I can aid Morocco and other developing countries on a large scale. Right now though, people like Walid are left in the wake of the country’s progress. Help me elevate Walid above the statistic. I cannot do this alone, everyday this becomes more and more apparent. If you would like to help I hope that you look at our How to Help page, and please consider donating. Every dollar is another step to saving someone lost along the way to a country’s prosperity.









Seligson, M., & Passe-Smith, J. (1993). Inequality as a Constraint on Growth in Latin America. In Development and underdevelopment: The political economy of inequality. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner.

Seligson, M., & Passe-Smith, J. (1993). The Five Stages of Growth. In Development and underdevelopment: The political economy of inequality. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner.


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