Can we fix Morrocan school?
Apr 29 2021|Written by Slimane Akalië|opinion, education, ideas
It was a sunny Monday from September of 2014, the first Monday in college for me. After a good lesson in English, I entered a math class, I didn't know then that I was studying one of the most difficult subjects in the whole college system of Morocco (it's called 'Analyse' in french). I can remember the faces of bored students, most of them (like me) were following what the teacher was writing on the board without really understanding the real purpose of it, others were talking to each other and try to build new relationships (especially the romantic ones). To control the noise in the class, the teacher had a prepared speech about "Hard work" and that most of us were undisciplined teenagers who didn't want to learn (actually a good percentage of Morrocan teachers share the same idea). I could easily see that his definition of "Hard work" was doing something you don't like just because society said so. For me, I had a little bit of fear to not reach "the new standards" but at the same time, I was confident about my work ethic and prepared mentally to almost everything, because until then I wasn't 100% forced by external rules from society or family but by internal ones to explore who am I and what I really want at the extreme. The external pressure will come later (and it wasn't fun by the way).
After months, I did well nearly in all subjects except Math, and I didn't know why. A quick answer from my friend was "Some people are naturally good with math", I couldn't accept this answer, so after digging deep into the process and asking some tough and honest questions, I found out some interesting leaks. I didn't get good grades because I wasn't disciplined in preparation, but the more important question why I wasn't disciplined in the first place?, maybe because I didn't like math, mm wrong answer, I didn't like leaving my home in the first day, but I was disciplined when I did it because I believed in it. Aha, maybe not believing in math is the source of my lack of discipline, but why I didn't believe in math?
I had no answer to this question back then and whenever I had a performance problem I kept cutting distractions and creating new systems. It worked most of the time for my standards. But after years, creativity and innovation weren't part of the new standards, they were replaced by a sort of pragmatism and realism. I was frustrated but I was also happy in a way because pushing to the extreme showed me that social standards are not correct 100%. And hearing this or reading about it has nothing to do with putting it into practice, I'm convinced that words and equations will NEVER describe the physics and chemistry of experiencing something in the real world.
So I went back to the question about my lack of discipline from my first year, maybe I can find something new, giving the context I had at college, I found out quickly that most students are not disciplined with school, not because they are bad people by nature but because teachers failed to explain the realistic reason behind learning, besides of course getting a job to pay the bills. When you link getting knowledge with just getting a paycheck to survive, people won't remember or use anything they learn after passing the exam. And when the only purpose of going to school is to get a degree to get a job, you will get under-performers in all professions which creates weak infrastructure in the country, without forgetting the increase in unemployment rates because capitalism doesn't reward under-performance.
From my 17 years at Moroccan school, I saw different kinds of teachers, and the common thing between most of them is looking down at students, I don't know why, maybe because they experienced the same thing when they were students or because their degrees and achievements created this big ego that led them to be more narcissistic.
Some of them try to behave like a dick CEO maybe because they were never real CEOs.
Some teachers believe they've achieved something great by getting a Ph.D., a nice office, and a good salary, others, even though they say "I don't know everything", their behavior can tell the opposite.
And the funniest thing, when you find a teacher who tells you how to live your life, I mean 99.99% of students don't admire their teacher, so why wasting people's time.
That been said, I was proud to meet other great teachers with a strong work ethic, new ways of teaching, and great souls.
If you are a teacher or aspiring to be one, as a student I can tell you some practical insights to bring energy to your classes (or future ones):
- Try to get everybody to participate in the lesson: I remember one good English teacher, instead of teaching English by telling us the rules of past perfect, simple tense and all that boring stuff, he was using a ted talk or a brainstorming session where everybody participates. And I still remember most of the lessons.
- Measure how much you talk during your lessons: for theoretical lessons just send the students the PDF and they will figure it out. Your job is to guide them not to read for them.
- Take HEXACO test: to find the bad things in your personality as a teacher (https://hexaco.org/hexaco-online), I think even students should take this test.
- Stop complaining about the system or the students: The definition of failure for me can be summarized in two words, complaining and blaming. I remember a teacher complaining about the system and proposing solutions to us, as if we were the ones who should implement them, it was just stupid.
- Listen to everybody and make the discussions less bureaucratic: one of the fundamental advantages of humanity is collaboration, we dominate the world not because we're the most powerful but because we can collaborate at a large scale, and that's correct for science, for example, there wasn't one inventor of the internet, all what we see today is a collaboration of thousands of brilliant minds. So, as a teacher, stop believing that you know everything and start listening to your students maybe you will learn something new.
- Explain the reason behind everything you teach: one of the first things I encountered in college was "Prouver que racine de 2 est irrationnel" in English "Prove that the square root of 2 is irrational", the question is "why should I prove it in the first place" and if you proved it just because the teacher said so congratulations. But when you know that someone was killed just because he proved this (he's called Hippasus of Metapontum a Pythagorean philosopher) and the historical impact of this proof on math, things get more interesting. When you know that solving the cubic equation (x^3+ax=b) allowed us to create 3D designs in our computers, when you know that prime numbers are used to crypt and protect your passwords, math becomes more interesting. I remember one time, a beautiful girl told me "Math is used in everything" but when I asked her to give me some practical examples, she couldn't, her assumptions were partially correct but she just heard them somewhere.
- Count how many times you said "I don't know about that but I will search for it": this will measure how humble you are.
Students also make a lot of mistakes like following orders, complaining a lot, being shy of asking uncomfortable questions to teachers just because other students could laugh or they could get penalized. But the most dangerous mistake I think, is not listening to your inner voice and just following your community rules, I think the most painful and beneficial experience that you could have at school is changing your identity, of course, society looks at those who do as failures (like changing college or leaving it altogether), but now, I'm pretty convinced that when you challenge your old beliefs to create a new identity, you will have a drive that fueled by choice to live a life as you really want not as some conventional rules want.
The one practical insight I can say is to question everything, experiment more, and dream more. Most of the time you will get punched in the face and penalized by some stupid teacher, and it's fine. Just remember that failing on your terms is better than succeeding on other people's terms.
And for the technical knowledge, push your mind to the limit and learn from doers, not teachers, because college is the only place when you could find a teacher of entrepreneurship who never started a business, a programming teacher who never worked for a tech company and a finance teacher who is stuck financially. Some good tools are books, and I'm not talking about those stupid self-help books, try biographies, philosophy, and even fiction could enhance your imagination, there are also online courses (again from doers), and here there is a good website called Masterclass, they bring the best in the world to share their expertise, people like Stephen Curry, Gordon Ramsay, Sara Blakely, and others.
I think parents play a huge role in our system failure, when you dig deeper you will find that most parents are really selfish, most parents force their children to be engineers or doctors just because they want to be proud of them in front of society and sometimes they want to get a portion of their salary. But if you really love your children, you want him to be happy every day of his life, and if you didn't give him the choice to do whatever he wants and the chance to fail over and over and over again, it's gonna be a nightmare.
But when you try to nurture the innate talents and tendencies of your child, you build what Google calls a "smart creative", a confident human being who does get his self-estimation from who he is not the degrees on your wall. It is really unfortunate to see students sleeping fewer hours and work to death just because they were forced by their parents to do so, this creates physical and mental problems. The most traumatic thing about it is that those students will become future parents and most probably they will do the same thing with their future children.
And even from a professional and financial standpoint, giving the freedom of choice to your children brings better results in the long run, can you imagine if the parents of Leonel Messi forced him to continue his studies to be an engineer, can you imagine if Kobe Bryant continued to college instead of jumping to the NBA directly from high school. Remember that Albert Einstein did not have a Ph.D. when he came with the theory that changed everything we know about physics (relativity), remember that Bill Gates left Harvard to start Microsoft and by the way, he wasn't studying computer science, he was studying law.
I think politicians are the most responsible for this mess in our educational system because with great power comes great responsibility. What happens in our country is that every government try to set a plan to fix education in 5 years (which is bullshit), they do this to show the Moroccan people that they did a good job and try to get elected again to get nice salaries, offices, and cars. You can't do anything to fix this. Remember the Arab world is fucked up not because we are stupid but because our politicians choose their instant gratification instead of helping their countries, just a quick look at the list of the richest people in the Arab world will show you this harsh truth. Political power normally should not be linked to personal wealth (Obama had school debt while he was the president of the US), but somehow we have the opposite in the Arab world. That's why I don't think political change is really a practical solution, and if it is a solution it's gonna take generations.
But if somehow you have the power to make that change, try to:
- Change the system from exam-based to project-based: and get people from the professional world to evaluate the work, but create a rewarding system to bring competition to the projects. Sometimes this is difficult for some subjects but that's the exception, not the rule.
- Give students the choice to decide what they want to become at an early age: for example, what I learned in my 17 years, I could learn it in 10 intense years, of course, I wouldn't become the same person but from the technical side, it's the same if not better (neuroplasticity in young age my friend).
- Create training sessions for all the teachers in primary schools and make the hiring process more selective: for me, I think the most dangerous and critical job in our country is a primary school teacher because you can build or destroy a human being in seconds.
- Fire some teachers: Honestly, in this country, there are many teachers who don't deserve to teach.
In the end, don't wait for politicians to fix the system, just do your job perfectly and use the most revolutionary invention in human history to your benefit, it's called the Internet.