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this is where reform should start!

There have been many reforms in our (Moroccan) educational system from 1956 up to Imagenow.The last reform should normally have given fruitful results by the end of 2010.The last ten years has seen a “give away” not to say a waste of huge amounts of money for what is called the “emergency plan”. It was normally supposed to reform our educational system within the 2000- 2010 period. However, with the exception of building new schools in some rural areas and recruting more untrained grduates, there is no real reform as it was expected by the whole nation.

Any educational reform should appear at the achievment level of the learners, and since Moroccan teachers, on the whole, still complain about the deteriorating level of most learners, then we can simply say that the reform was diverted to another direction, not to where it should go normally. Add to this that the results of the learners,in standardized national/regional tests show that our learners are far away from achieving the minimum level of the targeted competences- if any competence is targeted!.

To be fair, I am not blaming the learners as many other people would do.But, we have to look at the primary areas that should be targeted by any educational reform in this country if we really want to see improvement at the level of the learners’ attainment. I don’t undermine the huge positive impact of buidling schools for Moroccans in rural unpriviledged areas, though again those newly established schools need to be demolished, lest some of them fall over the heads of our kids…It is obvious that our ministry officials like to talk about numbers, about the quantity of things and I have never heard anyone of them talking about quality. Have you? I might be wrong. Review the ministerial reports, and tell me please if I am wrong. I suppose that the following axes have to get prominence, and their evaluation should be on the improvement of our learners’ achievement of certain pre-specified, achieveable and clear-cut competences that have to be clearly stated by the coming official documents.

1- Moroccan teachers should get efficient and effective training which should be easily reflected in and evaluated by classroom practices. It’s funny to hear of a training and to associate it with chicken! It’s also funny to hear people saying that they have to conduct a training session because they can’t spend a training budget on something else. This reminds me a very rigid mechanical system in which if you divert or use something in another place or for another reason, the whole system stops! Training has to be purposeful. It has to target clear objectives that are achieveable as well. How many trainings have you gone through under the old-fashioned term “pedagogie d’integration” or “evaluation” or “GENIE”… How much of that have used in your classes? How much of it is felt by the learners? How much technology is now “Generalized” in our schools?

My view is that trainings have to start from basics. It’s so funny to train a teacher on how to use digital resources while he/she still lacks the essentials of teaching the basic skills. Iam not against such trainings;yet, I think that our should know how to read, write and communicate first. I am not generalizing; but, this has brought to my mind the idea of differenciating training, It’s ok if the ministry conducts trainings on how to use Web.2 tools for profesional teachers WHO DON’T face difficulties in dealing with basic skills, not only in English but also in other areas! Do we have the internet in schools? How many multimedia classrooms do you have in your schools? How often can you access it if you have one? I think my point is clear!

2- The second area that should be targeted is the recruitment of new teachers; I mean trained teachers. I can’t imagine an educational system who is normally supposed  to produce / educate (choose the term you agree with) the elite, maybe the leaders of the country, and at the same time it is used as an engine that absorbs unemployed people. Education is not an area that can accept fatal errors. The errors appear immediately in the same year they are made. If you recruit an unemployed graduate to teach physics be sure that he/she will be teaching something else,at best the physics of the 70s!How would you expect the results of the learners by the end of the year. I am not against employing people. That’s one of their basic rights. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t be in schools. Please think of somewhere else. A place where they need no training and where the effect of lack of training would cost no more than tearing out a paper and rewriting it.

3- Part of the reform’s money should target making the school materials available for the learners. You know there is poverty! You know Moroccan parents ,especially in rural areas, usually have more than two or three children at schools. Think of how a father of three or four -I have seen cases of more- would afford to buy textbooks for their kids.I can’t imagine textbooks of 50dhs (English textbooks), in maths and other science subjects, the price is doubled. Forget about the quality of the textbook now; I am not speaking about that! I suppose that you all feel the plight of Moroccan families at the beginning of the school year. As a teacher, I have seen a textbook that is used for more than four or five years by different learners. Think of how it will look; forget about the exercises and the “tasks” inside!  Think about the effect of that on the learner’s achievement. They have bought large screen TVs ,and maybe they will send electronic textbooks in the future.

4- The last area I am going to speak about is the training of inspectors. I am using this term, though I have a reservation about it, simply because there are some areas in the educational system which need inspection, instead of educational supervision. There should be enough supervisors, not for “inspecting” teachers, but for helping them with their professional development. I have seen many trainings that were conducted by some people on topics they themselves have not understood,maybe they never heard about. It’s a waste of the learners’ time to bring teachers to a training that they cannot evaluate. Evaluation requires change of what is evaluated if it proves to be a failure. To evaluate a training, it must be conducted by people who can assume responsibility for its success or failure. That cannot be done by a teacher because simply that’s not his/her primary job.

These are crucial areas to hit for immediate reform,and building more schools should happen ,not at a later stage, but at the same time. After all, what’s the use of building a school if after five or six years the learner still can’t write or read his/her name? You all correct national/regional exams and you know how our learners answer. They are not to blame; you are not either.

I have tried to keep this post very short. I hope it’s to the point.

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Reforming assessment.

There has been a wide debate on the social networking leaks that accompanied our baccalaureate exams  this year,maybe more than what has ever happened in our end of high school (baccalaureate) exams.

The ministry of education issued a statement admitting that there were leaks through social networking sites.We heard also similar stories of people getting answers through sms messages from their mobiles.Many people also discussed stories of cases where violence was used by those who wanted to cheat in order to intemidate teachers.

So many people discussed the issue of leaking and cheating as immoral,unethical and all of those words that might be used to describe such an inhumane, anti-social practice.I am not going to look at the issue from that perspective again because we all agree that leaking exam question by one way or another and cheating must be punished.I will be looking at lessons that must be learned from what has recently happened.

The first thing that is obvious is that our examination system does no longer meet the requirements and conditions of the modern age, in which our students are living.This examination system must be reformed in such a way that leaking questions or cheating becomes almost impossible or meaningless.While alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the last 2 or 3 hours exam is totally unfair,this percentage has to be modified so that the continous assessment that is taken on a regular basis gets more prominence and importance.In this way,we rid those who rely too much on the final 50% opportunity of  that one minute chance of cheating and getting a grade that will certainly be better than that of a student who was labouring during the whole baccalaureate years(the two years).

It’s high time for the ministry of education to give more credit to those assessments that are done throughout the school year,and also to rely more on the gardes that students get from their continous work and efforts,and not from a one week ( sometimes a one night) effort.

The leaks of the exams using technology has also another lesson to teach us.Our assessment has to move from posing direct (closed) questions that have only one possible answer to assessments that rely on an ongoing process of learning,research and inquiry.It’s high time that Moroccan schools start assessing students using widely open methods of assessments that foster creativity,responsibility and compitition, including long-term portfolios and projects that are continously monitored by the teacher,who is the only one that is able to decide whether that final (or process) product of the student is really his/her own achievement or not.

I really think that assessing students has to rely more on systems where they can integrate more than one skill.Project-based assessment is one possibile way through which students can integrate all the skills and competencies they have learned all through the thier four years of learning EFL.A one choice question gives ample space for “gambling”,and that’s absolutely clear in the true/false statement,where students get the correct choice,and they fail to justify it.

The status quo of the EFL exams now tests the students only in one skill (It’s not even a skill; find a name for that).It’s unfair to test a student on wether he/she’s able to use the passive or to express regret using questions like “re-write the sentence as indicated..”.I am not justifying the leaks or cheating.Yet,my view is that this sort of testing/assessment is totally unfair as the student might be able to use the passive in his/her speaking/writing,and still he/she fails to see the trasformation rule.Giving students multiple chances of showing what they can do with English minimizes to a great extent the attempts of cheating.

I really think that the type of questions (of the sort of “re-write the sentences as indicated/where is…?Put the verbs between brackets in the correct form…) that are used now gives the students more chances of cheating,and it strips the teacher of the opportunity of deciding if a product is really from the student or from a facebook site.

Alocating 50% of the baccalaureate grade to the national (three hours) exam is also unfair from another perspective.Paper and pen exams fail to adress multiple interests,multipe learning styles and multiple intelligences.There might be some students who are really good at speaking English,and yet they find it to hard to sit in a chair and answer grammar/comprehension questions for two or three hours.

I think that our assessment has also to move a step forward from meeting the interests of a few students to catering for a whole range of students’ differences.Leaking exams using technology and social networking sites shows that some of our students are fans of the mobile,the camera,the video and so many other things.

Assessment through multiple skill projects gives our students the opportunity to express themselves the fullest,to be creative and productive.Of course,we have the possibility of assessing our students using portfolios and projects.But,remember that’s only a small part of the already small 25% alocated to continous assessment.It’s high time, then, that we put more trust in in-class continous grades and assessments.I think it’s the long term continous assessment that deserves to get even more than 50% of the baccalaureate grade!

Another failure of the paper and pen exams as they are administered now is that they fail to test all what our students can do with lanaguage.I am absolutely sure,depending on my in-service experience that transforming a statement from direct to reported speech on the board or in the work-book doesn’t necessarily mean that the student CAN really do that while he/she’s speaking or writing an article.So the point is:Exams have to be taken in different ways.Testing our students’s language as it is now cannot tell us anything about the real competencies that our students have really achieved throughout their four years of learning English.

I suppose that students have to be tested orally,in writing (different forms of writing again,not write an article about “the causes and effects of brain drain” full stop) and through projects as well.We have to get multiple sources of information about what our students have achieved,and those multiple sources must get the same garde perectages.I am not sure whether there is any piece of evidence which shows that reading comprehension is more important than writing or vice versa.By alocating more grades to grammar/vocabulary and less to writing (or the opposite) you fail to be fair in your testing,as you are giving more opportunities of success to those who are “grammar” fans (maybe authoritative/mathematical) learners and you take more chances from those who love imagination(writing poems,essays…).

By using only a paper and pen exam,our exams are also unfair,and that gives more excuses to those who “love” to cheat.There are so many of our students who are good at speaking,maybe “auditory/communicative” learners.A pen and paper exam doesn’t really cater for their biological difference.

Using technology in leaking exams and in cheating tells us one last thing.Our educational system,which still relies to much on chalk,textbooks,papers and blackboards,is lagging far behind our students’ daily lives.Cheating and leaking exams using technology ,maybe, gives them the pleasure and the satisfaction which our classes fail to give them.It’s high time then for all of us to start thinking of making this technology “ridiculous” for them( in a postive way of course).Our schools must be equiped with the sort of technology that most of our students are experiencing ( in a negative way) these days so that they learn that facebook,i-phones,i-pads and what’s coming next are made for learning and not for cheating.

To conclude,I have read on many places on the web (forums,facebook pages…) comments of people asking the ministry of education to equip schools with equipements that are able to cut off the internet and mobile networks on schools during exams.Well,that might be a good idea,but remember that as you are thinking of that,other people might have already got applications,software or maybe machines that will make your idea so funny for them!

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