Teaching Berber in the Moroccan Primary Schools
December 10, 2004
The Opening Chapter
Berber is no more a forgotten national dialect, but an entire subject in our Moroccan primary schools. Different positions arise when arguing about this subject, which was first created since the foundation of the Royal Berber Institute by his majesty Mohamed the sixth, King of Morocco. There are Berbers trying to defend their right of having their language recognized as a national language and taught in schools. Other people, from non-Berber speaking areas, are opposed to the idea of raising the value of Berber from a dialect to a national language. In this paper I will try to convince the opposed parties to this idea that teaching Berber is a positive point, not only for the concerned children in schools, but also for the entire Moroccan society.
The idea of teaching Berber in schools was put forward for the first time in august 20 th , 1994, when the late king Hassan II gave a speech on the occasion of a national day. He declared, for the first time in the Moroccan history, that teaching and learning Berber is mandatory for all Moroccans. That speech was followed by the creation of many Berber associations trying to apply what has been said in the royal speech. Three years after that, the Moroccan television knew the creation of a new kind of TV news in the main three Berber dialects. After all that, Mohamed VI, the present Moroccan king, gave a speech in October 17 th 2001 , in Ajdir, especially to enforce the idea of his father about the Berber issue. Then, he set up the "Dahir" creating the Royal Institute of Berber Culture.
Language has always been a sensitive issue, and teaching Berber, is a subject that interests not only the concerned students and teachers, but the whole Moroccan population with its educated people, politicians, and journalists. Many conferences were given, radio television programs and interviews as well, that was also the birth of many newspapers and magazines. Consequently, we see that teaching this ancient language is supported by many people and opposed by many others. Frankly, I think that Berber is the first spoken language and the original slang in Morocco , it should be known by every single Moroccan.
Many people disagree with the fact of having Berber as a mandatory subject in the Moroccan primary schools. They think that it will be better to push children to concentrate on learning Arabic and French and other international languages rather than Berber. And also this new subject in the schools will make the academic tasks harder for young students. This appears in the difficulty of learning that new subject and uses the Berber alphabet "Tifinagh"; it will be much harder also, because students must learn both the Arabic and Latin alphabet. But in reality, this can be very advantageous in many ways. It will make a good study environment for Berber students and motivate them about their future studies. Because most of them drop-out of school and do not follow their academic career because they do not study in their mother tongue. This is also a good opportunity for non-Berber speaking students, because they will learn a language that will help them sooner or later, since it is a language that their parents ignore, even if it is their language. And if they are from Berber parents that still use Berber while communicating at home, learning that language at school will help them learn it better and faster than home learning. This does not mean that, if we learn Berber, we have to forget about other languages. And as we all know, nobody in morocco speaks Arabic; there is "Darija", the Moroccan dialect, which is a mixture of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish, and there is Berber, the most common two spoken languages in the Moroccan daily life. And if Berbers are demanding the recognition of their own language and culture, not as the official language of our country, but just as the king Mohamed the sixth said in the speech marking his second anniversary of enthronement on July 30 when promising for the first time, the creation of the Royal Institute for Berber Culture," Berber is a national treasure, and the Institute would preserve this heritage, and coordinate with other governmental bodies for its teaching". As everyone can note, he did not mention in his speech the issue of recognizing Berber as the official language.
Some argue that Berber is a local language, and therefore it should not be taught because it will help just in few areas. Those who say things like that are totally against Berber's rights. But the truth is that knowing Berber can be helpful whenever and wherever one is, because almost all people living in the Moroccan mountains are monolingual: they speak only Berber. And knowing that language can be very helpful when trying to communicate with them, either for personal or administrative purposes. Also because most of them did not have the chance to enter a school and learn, and they don't trust a non Berber speaker, the thing that gives an advantage to those who can speak Berber and that will help easily to gain their confidence.
Some people argue that teaching Berber means that other dialects in Morocco such as "Chamali or Sahrawi", must be taught in schools. But, these dialects do not have a history and they are just varieties of Moroccan Arabic. However, Berber is the majority language in our country, and it is a separate language that does not use any Arabic words or expressions. So teaching and recognizing it as a language, and stop considering it as a simple slang, is one of the most important means toward peaceful and social stability. This recognition is the first step to a peaceful coexistence through acknowledging the rights of Berbers as the people that contributed to the building of this country and its history. Also having one unified kind of Berber instead of three, will enforce the Moroccan unity and will strengthen the relations between different Berber tribes under the sacred forces that unifies all the Moroccans, Islam, the nation and Monarchy (the powers of the king). It is very good when thinking of this idea as a positive point for morocco, because the government will find it as an opportunity to solve a part of the unemployment problem by giving some people new teaching jobs and positions.
(Retrieved from Google images)
Berber language is the spoken language used by almost the half of the Moroccan population. Since the settlement of Arabs in northern Africa , Berber started to become ignored more and more, this because "with Islamisation came Arabisation". Berbers tried to learn Arabic and teach it to their children, to be able to understand the meanings of the Holy Quran. This kind of new "culturalism" led them to forget about their own and native language, and forgot to teach it to the next generations. Nowadays, Berbers constitute 40% of the Moroccans, they are in almost every single area, they are the majority not the minority, contrary to what some people say. Therefore, teaching that language means teaching a largely spoken one that has speakers spread all over the country. And this is illustrated in the map below.
Some people, who support the ideas that are against the creation of that project, try to defend their point of view by saying that we, as an underdeveloped country, have to look for some ways which can lead us to do well in our economy and our technologies to be in the same boat as the developed countries in the world, rather than searching in the history and trying to realize the project that will not help in the future. Contrary to that, the project of teaching Berber is the most important means of preserving that historical treasury which is part of our culture and national identity, especially in a period of time where countries try to collect and preserve as much of their historical and cultural heritage as possible, and try to fix what has been broken and dig out what has been forgotten. And according to what his majesty Mohamed VI said in the speech he delivered when sealing the Dahir setting up the Royal Institute of Berber Culture:
"The act we are fulfilling today is not only meant to be a reading through our History, this is also an act of faith in the future, the future of a Morocco of solidarity and cohesion, the Morocco of determination and earnestness, the Morocco of virtue, serenity and moderation, the Morocco of all that is strong by its national unity, a unity that is further consolidated by the regionalization policy"
He also said, in the same speech, other things about the unity:
"The unity that makes of each and every one of the Moroccan regions a fecund space where all the potentialities can express themselves, thrive, blossom and progress in the frame of a citizen democratic practice".
From that, I think that when teaching Berber we will be in the safe side from losing an important part from our history and nationality, and after knowing our history very well, we will be able to reach the range of the developed countries in this world.
Berber, our historical and cultural treasure, has become the newest subject in the primary academic program. And as his majesty Mohamed the VI said in the same speech , " We want to assert that Tamazight, which is deeply rooted in the in-depths of the Moroccan people's history, belongs to all Moroccans, without any exception, and cannot be used to serve political designs of whatever nature". Because it is the language that our ancient grand parents used for long decades, and now it is the language spoken by half of the Moroccan population. Berber was ignored until king Mohamed VI, whose mother is Berber, gave the launch of the Moroccan Royal Berber Institute. We must remove all those ideas of competition between Berber and Arabic, because the matter is how we will reach the target of having Berber in all the levels of study. Also the language that we must rely on as an official language for the country is Arabic, and giving an importance to other international languages such as French and English. But having Arabic as an official language does not mean that Berber must be neglected and ignored. The aim of creating the Royal Institute for Berber Culture and the teaching project is to give that ancient tongue its good place among people in the society, and not creating political trouble or social conflicts.