Comparative Educational Systems

April 6, 2008

[This is a joined article written by Adele from Tufts University & me representing Al Akhawayn University within the Soliya Program for connecting future global leaders.]

Education is the most important mean of shaping the identity and impregnating a certain community of the values of its cultural system. As the aim behind the Soliya program is implementing a better mutual understanding between the American and and Arab societies, we’ve chosen to present throughout this common work a comparative overview of the American and the Moroccan universities’ educational systems, as institutions of elite production. We will approach this very sensitive subject by dividing the work in two parts, one dealing with the American model and the other with the Moroccan one. In each part we’ll be focusing on tree levels of description: the universities’ infrastructures, the educational pedagogy and the educational content.

I.The United States Universities Educational System

The University education system in the United States began in 1636 with the founding of Harvard University in Cambridge MA, and has since grown to close to 300 Universities. Universities in the U.S. for many years were primarily for privileged white men from elite families. Because of the limited educational opportunities for women, colleges solely for women began to develop in 19th century America. While these women’s colleges continue to prosper, beginning in the mid-20th century those universities reserved only for men started opening their doors for women. Currently in the U.S. there are still a small number of women’s colleges but by and large the majority of the United States Universities are available to anyone regardless of sex. Presently applicants are judged based on essays, teacher recommendations, a transcript, extra-circular activities, and finally College Board admission exam scores. Based on these attributes and sometimes an interview universities accept members into there student body. Overall these University students live on or near campus away from home and study as a student full time.

The United States undergraduate education system is primarily divided into two types of institutions based on there sources of funding. In the United States, with the exception of military service academies, there are no universities directly regulated by the federal government. Instead they government gives money and assistance to universities and it is the state governments that are more involved in the management of public universities. These public universities which receive funding from both the state and local governments systems and that cost less to attend. There are also private universities and colleges who are managed independently of the government and receive minimal state funding. In the United States some of the private universities are religiously affiliated but the role religion has in education varies enormously. In some institutions religion is large part of the education and in others it is simply affiliated and has minimal influence over the curriculum.

There are several types of pedagogy in the United States education system that are used to varying degrees in most universities. First there are large lecture classes in which enrollment can be as many as a few hundred students. In this environment the professor teaches the lector class while the Teaching Assistants run smaller recitations, labs and review sessions. Smaller types of class are seminars which have less then 20 people, there are often no Teaching Assistants and these are the most intimate between professors and students. Often with smaller classes the course is based more on discussion and writing then are larger classes focused on professor lectures. There are also medium sized classes that incorporate some discussion and lecture to try to find a balance between the two extremes. The variety of classes available allows students to find classes that fit them the best offering the most options for success.

The University System in the United States offers a wide range of educational opportunities. In terms of content there are technical schools that teach there students the necessary skills for being successful in specific jobs immediately after graduation. However that is not the norm. Typically Universities require students to study a core curriculum designed to ensure a basis of knowledge and breadth of curriculum for all students. After that, students pick a major or concentration which allows them to focus on a specific topic or field that interests them. This major or concentration is sometimes a direct preparation for work after graduation and in other cases it may have little relevance on what careers a student chooses to pursue.

II.The Moroccan Universities Educational System

Morocco is originally a tribal archaic society, where knowledge is considered as a priceless capital. Because of that, the religious doctors who can read and write constituted a powerful class with whom all the monarchies of the kingdom tried to ally themselves in order to contain and influence the street people. Morocco has the oldest university in the world; Al-Qarawiyin University founded in 859 by Fatima Feheria, a wealthy woman who came to Morocco from the East. This religious style university, which still exists today, was offering a range of fields of specialization among the most important of that period. The university also had a campus where students can eat and sleep & a huge library as well as financial independence. Nowadays, there are three different kinds of higher education institutions in the Moroccan educational model. First, there is a traditional religious family of institutions which still subsist to form the specialists in Islamic affairs. These institutions are very firm and produce a narrow-minded minority. Second, there are the specialized institutions, which attract the best students to study different fields like engineering, journalism and management. This kind of institution is the legacy of the French style education left by the colonization period. Then there are the universities which constitutes a network of 13 public free universities, situated in the most important cities of the country, unfortunately these universities are very weak & poor academically because of there dependence on the state and ministry of education. Finally, there is an American style very modern university dedicated for the upper classes and the elite of the society, which is Al Akhawayn University. In addition to these forms there are many private institutions, but which have no apparent impact in shaping the cultural identity of the elites. According to the official figures, the different Moroccan universities produces 24000 new graduated student every year, on a population of 30 million, for 2500 teachers, and more than 19% of the country’s general budget.

In terms of pedagogy, the Moroccan universities face different kind of problems. A mixture of the religious rigid system and the French inflexible model influenced the perception of education in Morocco till the late 1990s, when King Hassan II called for a general reform of education and constituted The Special Commission of Education and Formation. Another problem, is the luck of interactivity between the teachers and the students, which creates passive submissive & frustrated individuals roughly able to think and produce ideas. Furthermore, teachers receive very few training on the techniques of pedagogy and andragogy, which makes them not ready to face young generations. As a result of these reasons and many others, Moroccan universities produce young people with no practical experience and no courage to face the harsh market of work, so many of them remain jobless and start thinking of immigrating legally or illegally abroad.

As far as educational content is concerned, it is important to mention that the ideological turmoil Morocco was living during the 1970s in the universities pushed the leader parties to shut philosophy courses and replace them by religion courses. This huge mistake in the history of Moroccan’s education system succeeded in calming the communist voices but in exchange offered an excellent cradle for extremists and crippled the regenerations of the elites during the 1980s and 1990s. Among the other characteristics of the educational content, is the focus on the theoretical aspects not the practical ones of knowledge, and a narrow perception of the world presenting sometimes the others as evil, which is very contradictory to the Moroccan culture, which is labeled as being tolerance.

Moroccans have a good reputation of being very brilliant in languages and new technologies, yet, this is mainly due to the human natural potential not the educational system which still needs to reform itself to cope with the needs of the global world. Unfortunately, this genuine luck in this crucial field push more and more Moroccans to chose to finish there education abroad, and most of the time never come back to Mother Land.


-Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/
-Harvard University: http://www.harvard.edu
-Learning in Morocco: http://www.cp-pc.ca/english/morocco/learning
-The Higher Education Field official web site: http://www.enssup.gov.ma
-The Moroccan Ministry of Education official web site: http://www.men.gov.ma/
-The Special Commission for Education & Formation official web site: http://www.cofef.co.ma
-Tufts Office of Admissions http://www.tufts.edu/home/admissions/


One comment

  1. I think it’s “close to 3000 universities” in the US, cf.
    Sidi ROM

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