Monthly Archives: April 2016

What our school is missing: Nurturing real-life skills.

As the Moroccan economy is steadily becoming service-based,  new real-life skills and competencies are needed in the job market. However, the reform in the teaching of foreign languages is not yet addressing the needs of 21st century learners.

Despite what is claimed in many official documents (including the docoments that have been issued by the Ministry of National Education and by the Supreme Council)  and the statements made in many press conferences, the teaching of English as  a foreign language still adheres to traditional paradigmes.

Recently,  “Mr. Rachid Benmoukhtar, Minister of National Education and Vocational Training, emphasized that foreign languages (…) are necessary to improve future generations’ opportunities to access the job market and enhance Morocco’s competitiveness in a constantly changing world”(here). The goals that are made in this statement are not new. Similar statements have been made starting from the year 2000 (the National Charter on Education and Training)  up to the last two school years (the Strategic Vision and the accompanying documents).

Although I totally agree with the minister concerning the view that schools should prepare the kids for the job market and make them competitive citizens , the basic question that has neither been asked nor answered is: What have we done in our education to target the aim that is broadly outlined by the minister?

In this permanently changing world, I see that there is a huge gap between what the official statements/documents claim and what is happening in our schools. The ministry of education has taken certain measures to enhance and reinforce the teaching of languages (I am speaking in this blog only about English as a foreign language) such as the adoption of International and Vocational Streams for the Moroccan Baccalaureate. On the ground, however, almost nothing seems to be changing for various reasons. First, the teachers are still using the same textbooks, the same teaching materials (the chalk and the board) and mainly the same curriculum and syllabus.tests

Similarly, for the enhancement of language teaching in our schools, the assessment procedures have to change. It’s nonesense to claim that the teaching of English aims at developing certain communicative competencies while the assessment procedures still adhere to traditional, discrete point, paper and pencil tests.

You cannot compete globally with traditional 20th century (or earlier) skills. The world has changed and the global (as well as the Moroccan) economy is changing fast. New life skills are required. Today, individuals need different social, affective, communicative and thinking skills. It’s unfortunate to say that you cannot achieve this (no matter what) with the current situation in Moroccan schools. Today’s English language learners need to develop the globally required life-skills along with language communicative competencies. Such skills include, but are not limited to, the following:

real-life_skills

If you think about what our kids are learning these days in our EFL classes (maybe in our schools), you won’t find almost any of the above skills. Our curricula/syllabi heavily focus on the rote memorization of facts and rules. Our EFL language classes testify this. We still execcively highlight learning the rules of ‘the past perfect’, ‘the conditionals’, ‘the passive’…. We go over the reading comprehension texts with no attempt to train the learners on any target reading strategy, etc,. Our tests (as already mentioned) are of the true or false type.

Learning in such a way might have served its purpose in a different era. Today, the world has changed and so our school/teaching should be. Such traditional teaching systems foster only adherence to rules, followng instructions and manual guidelines, memorizing nontransferable facts and seeing the world only as either black or white. This of course cannot increase students’ opportunities to easily access the job market. To be global citizens and to access the job market requires the development of the already mentioned and other real-life skills.

Pedagogically speaking, the teaching of English in Moroccan schools  needs to integrate the development of language competencies (such as talking about past events, describing a process, writing a coherent paragraph, etc,…) with other real-life skills (such as those listed above). At the level of implementation this is not a complex or difficult task. It requires, however, afollowing a strategic, clear and goal-oriented process:

  1. The national curriculum is the area to start with (note that I am adopting the definitions of the curriculum and the syllabus as stated in  Course Design). We should have a unified, clear and consise curriculum. This curriculum should state the broad goals of teaching the Moroccan learners. Hence, targetting the real-life skills like the ones stated above should be a goal of the cross-subject area curriculum.  An imporant aspect of the curriculum which is, unfortunately, missing in our educational system is a clear-cut profile of the learners at each level. Designing a national curriculum certainly requires outlining the target profile of the learners.
  2. A second step is related to the design of the EFL syllabus (the syllabus we are concerned with here). Expecting to promote the teaching of foreign languages, as
    stated in the Strategic Vision,  with the currently available curriculum/syllabus is simply an unrealistic goal. The ministry is supposed to start from reforming the current syllabus in a way which would allow it to include real-life skills. There are various classroom activities which can embed such real-life skills including presentational speaking activities, project-based tasks, case studies, etc,. As already said concerning the overall profile of the Moroccan learners, we should have a clear foreign language profile of the Moroccan learners. This profile shall include the target communicative and other real-life skills which the learner should develop by the end of each grade level.
  3. Once the specification of the target real-life skills is outlined in the national cross disciplinary curriculum and the EFL (subject-specific) syllabus, materials writers should think of activities which target both EFL specific skills (reading skills, grammar, etc,.) as well as real-life skills. Such activities should no longer be of the ‘fill in the blanks type’.
  4. To prepare the learners for the ever-changing world and for the emerging ‘social’ (because it relies mainly on being creative, sharing, collaboration etc,. instead of executing simple tasks in an assembly line) job market, today’s classroom activities should be open for multiple solutions, promote creativity, sharing, working together to PRODUCE common knowledge (e.g, preparing a project, designing  a poster, preparing a multimedia presentation,acting out a play etc,.) instead of activities which heavily rely on reproducing/recasting what the teacher has presented (e.g, rewrite the sentences starting with ‘if’).
  5. It is of equal importance to briefly mention that targetting the development of real-life skills in the teaching of EFL requires a shift in the focus of our assessment systems. You cannot ask a teacher to focus on ‘collaboration’ in communication while your tests simply ask the leraners to ‘add the appropriate prefix to the words’. Real authentic assessment requires involving learners in joint-effort, collaborative projects (similar to the ones they are doing while learning). I am not undermining the testing of language skills such as the ‘use of ‘will’ to talk about the future’. This should happen in a natural context, in as much as the way it takes place in real-life. These micro language competencies can be assessed while observing the performance of the learners in real-life tasks. The development of ‘observation’ rubrics should go along with teaching.

To conclude, if we really want to promote the teaching/learning of foreign languages, prepare our learners for the future, and make them ready for a highly competitive world, the (near)future of English in the Moroccan schools should be totally different from what it is now. The Startegic Vision might be considered as an overall perspective. Without having (at least) a clear syllabus and a clear learner profile, targetting the aims outlined in the Vision appears useless.

We need to transform the teaching of English in our schools from:

  1. grammar-based to skill-based classes,
  2. focusing on teaching reading texts to a focus on training the learners on reading strategies,
  3. focusing on memorizing rules and forms to using them in MEANINGFUL situations (plays, discussions, debates, etc, )
  4. focusing on Practice exercises to stressing APPLICATION and INTEGRATION in real-life tasks (e.g, a presentation/ a role play/ a study project),
  5. focusing on exams and tests to focusing on skill development,
  6. adopting pure language-skill classes to adopting multiple-real life skill classes.
  7. adopting individual-based to collective and collaborative tasks.
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