Education unions in Morocco prevent private schools’ profiteering from COVID-19 Crisis Fund

A federation of for-profit private schools, many of which are collecting fees during the lockdown without providing online classes or teachers’ pay, had sought financial assistance through the COVID-19 fund

May 14, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
morocco education unions covid
(Photo: Morocco World News)

In Morocco, education sector unions have successfully stopped a federation of private for-profit schools from securing financial assistance from the COVID-19 Crisis Fund, the Education International (EI) said in a statement yesterday, May 13. 

Many of these schools, EI stated, “were forcing parents to pay tuition fees even though the schools were closed” since March 20. However, neither online classes nor teachers’ salaries were funded from this money collected as fees. Several teachers were in fact laid off.

Moreover, in addition to seeking financial aid from the crisis fund, “the federation also sought an exemption from paying private sector education workers’ salaries in case parents refused to pay fees. And it asked for the abolition of contributions to the National Social Security Fund and attempted to negotiate tax exemptions for the current year,” EI added.

EI-affiliated teachers and other staff unions in Morocco’s education institutions strongly objected to this behavior of privately owned schools. The unions had “mobilized members to donate three days’ worth of wages over three months to the national COVID-19 solidarity fund.” 

Accusing the private schools of profiteering from the pandemic, the unions demanded action from prime minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani in an official letter. They also successfully raised this issue in the parliamentary session through the formation of “strategic alliances” with MPs.     

“As a result, the Minister of Economy, Finance and Administrative Reform rejected all requests from the federation of private schools during a parliamentary hearing,” EI said. 

The “Labor Minister also declared that private schools that had laid off teachers or relegated them to technical unemployment and requested financial support while parents were still paying tuition fees, would be prosecuted.”

Unions have called upon the government to stop proactive support to for-profit “education providers that only deepen inequality and segregation in the country”, and focus instead on strengthening public schools. 

“Segregation of the Moroccan education system”

The public education system in Morocco has suffered progressive attacks through budget cuts and opening up space for for-profit educational enterprises, which took force with the implementation of the structural adjustment program of the IMF and the World Bank, starting from 1983.

As a part of this adjustment, the state stopped prioritizing public education and “opened the door of international actors to dictate the education policies that Morocco should follow,” argued the summary of a paper commissioned by EI and its affiliates, published in January 2020.

This has created a “three-tier system” of private education, with elite schools at the top catering mostly in French to wealthy and upper middle class families, second-tier schools with bilingual education, and “lower-quality private schools for lower-middle class and working-class families.” 

While the lower rung private schools charge relatively lesser fees, it nevertheless imposes a significant financial burden on the families of the class they cater to. The thoroughly degraded public schools have become the last resort of the poorest section, who can afford little or no expenditure on primary schooling for their children.

The quality of public schools, along with that of other public service institutions, has particularly degraded since 2005, when the government adopted a voluntary departure program for civil servants, including teachers. This was also followed up with an early retirement program, which led to “mass departure of personnel from the public sector”.

Attempting to address the severe shortfall of teachers, the government, since 2016, has hired 70,000 contract teachers. Most of them have been assigned over-crowded classrooms with little or no training.

The contract teachers do not have access to the same rights and benefits as their colleagues who are treated as civil servants. These teachers have often taken to streets in protest to demand the minimum respect to their rights as workers. 

This situation has in effect resulted in a “segregation of the Moroccan education system.. where students experience different values and live in different ‘Moroccos’ in which they might never cross paths”. 

In order to stop this increasing polarization of society, the education unions have called on the government to prioritize public schools and treat education as a “right” rather than a commodity.