A Whole New World of Education
The Royal Kingdom of Morocco, an intriguing Islamic old world country, is opening its doors to American educational opportunities. In January Longwood President Patricia Cormier was part of a delegation from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) that went to Morocco.
The delegation of eight presidents/chancellors and AASCU's director of international education met with 12 of the 14 Moroccan university presidents. The purpose of the presidential mission was to explore opportunities for educational partnerships and exchanges between AASCU campuses and the colleges and universities of Morocco.
While Morocco has one of the oldest universities in the world, Al-Qarawiyin University in Fez founded in 859 by a wealthy woman named Fatima Al Fehriya, today some 41 percent of the population is illiterate, many in rural areas and predominantly women. The current educational system has been described as obsolete, with substantial program duplication, poor graduation rates, a rigid grading system of pass/fail, and limited interaction with the business and private sectors.
Morocco recognizes its educational shortcomings and is undergoing major reform. In 1970 only 28 percent of Moroccan adults could read; in 2004 53 percent are literate. The current plan to eradicate illiteracy provides invaluable opportunities for American universities like Longwood. "Morocco's desire to reform their educational system gives Longwood students and faculty an excellent opportunity to become involved with a country that is rich in ancient history and diversity of people, yet reflects a modern continental culture," says Dr. Cormier.
Morocco was the first country to officially recognize American independence in the late 1700s, and it remains a strong ally today and potentially a viable economic partner under the free trade agreement signed by President Bush in 2004 that will virtually eliminate trade tariffs between the two countries. It is a nation of contrasts with many cultures and religions living side by side in harmony. Moroccans claim that the Berber tradition of openness and inclusion is what makes Morocco the most tolerant country in the Islamic world. Evidence of this is everywhere - in languages, cultures, dress, architecture, and food. Moroccans speak both Arabic and French fluently, and many learn English, Spanish, Italian, as well as German.
"This mission is the first step in opening the doors to a whole new world of education for our students and faculty," concluded Dr. Cormier
Attassamoueh~ was a word we kept hearing during our visit,
Tucked between the heavy waters of the Atlantic, the gentle Mediterranean, the harsh Atlas Mountains and the boundless Sahara, Morocco's strategic topography has dictated its destiny. Tolerance has been natural for millenia. As we considered it, the "substratum" (the ancient and very rich Berber culture and language) has percolated up into everyday usage (three dialects still spoken by this linguistic group). Arabs invaded in the 7th and 11th centuries, imposing a "superstratum" of their Semitic tongue, special culture, architecture and famous religion. Today, Spanish immigrants, Blacks, and Jews all live and work side by side in this haven - what one might call a "foretaste of Paradise." Especially so for me because, even though the French colonized "Le Maroc" during a mere 44 years (1912-1956), French is spoken widely and is considered the working language for many (and luckily so, for an old French teacher).
During our visits to Casablanca, Rabat, Fes and Marrakech, we observed a dignified, friendly people, warm, hard working and family-oriented. To make this "tri-cultural" experiment work, Moroccans have had to learn tolerance to survive. Now their young king Mohammed VI, besides energetically fostering reforms on many fronts in this "guided democracy" (really a constitutional monarchy), it appeared to us, was causing a "trickle down" of openness and socio-economic improvements.
There is much refreshment awaiting Longwood in this boundless oasis, so ladid! ("succulent, delicious"), and much more than just couscous and tajine (meat-and-vegetable stew).
- Dr. Raymond Cormier