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October 22, 2008 School Stats

I’ve also learned some general facts about the mdrasa. The 1st and 2nd grade are conducted entirely in Arabic, so each has one teacher. Starting in 3rd grade, the students learn French, so they have two teachers: the “Arabic teacher” teaches Arabic spelling/vocabulary/grammar/etc, as well as history, geography, art, science, and Islamic studies…in two hours per day. The “French teacher” teaches French spelling/vocab/grammar/etc and math, also in two hours per day. Math classes are conducted in a blend of French and Arabic. Students attend a total of 4 hours of school per day.

The 1st grade has 62 students, 2nd grade has 49, 3rd has 41, 4th has 30, 5th has 34, and 6th has 24. (The 7th grade, at the collège up the road, has about 150 students, but that’s because it draws from dozens of mdrasas throughout the region.) Note the precipitous decline throughout elementary school. Different NGOs report conflicting statistics about school attendance, but they all agree that it’s lower than it should be. School attendance is mandatory through 6th grade, but this isn’t enforced at all.

Textbooks aren’t provided by the school. Fortunately, for millions of low-income children, they’re provided by the Fondation Mohammed V, along with backpacks and pencil-cases chock-full of pens, pencils, protractors, compasses, and other useful school tools. No one I’ve asked knows where the money comes from. Government? Tax dollars? Private contributions? Moroccan NGOs? International NGOs? The answer is out there… But the books etc didn’t arrive until September 25th, which was right before the week-long vacation for the Eid (nominally only a two-day holiday, but…), so the students didn’t actually start the curriculum until October 6th, over a month into the school year.

The school-day calendar is truly confusing, at least to the uninitiated (read: me). From 3rd grade onwards, the day is divided up into 4 blocks. Depending who you ask, the block starts at 8, or 8:30, or maybe 9. (This might also explain the high rate of tardiness, both by students and teachers.) It runs until 10 – or maybe 10:15 or 10:30 – and then the second block starts after a five-minute gap to exchange classes. Well, the teachers and the classrooms have a switch. The students only have one of these two blocks, and spend the other one either at home or hanging out around the town. The second block ends at 12:40 – or maybe 12:00 – and there’s another sea change of students. The third block begins at 12:45 – or 1:00 – and goes till 3:00 (everyone agrees on 3pm). The fourth block goes from 3:05 till 5:00/5:15/5:25. Students either attend blocks 1 & 3 or else 2 & 4. The teachers teach either blocks 1 & 2 or else 3 & 4.

Oh, and the schedule switches every other day. Almost every other day. Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, students have one schedule (e.g., blocks 1&3), but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, they have the other one. Plus Friday’s afternoon classes are delayed 30 minutes to allow time to go to the mosque.


All the schools I’ve taught at operated on a block system, and it was usually at least this complicated, so I’m confident that the teachers and students learn it well enough to make it work smoothly. Although I’m concerned with the vagaries of the timestamps; there are no bells, so the classes begin and end basically when the teacher wants them to.

That’s at the mdrasa, anyway. At the collège and lycée, there are bells, but they’re rung manually, so there’s still a bit of vagueness.

[Update 10/23 – I visited one classroom in one of the schools (I’m leaving it ambiguous on purpose) half an hour before the presumptive end of the day, hoping to talk with the teacher whenever the class ended. The teacher wasn’t in her classroom, so I chatted with the students for a few minutes instead. At the scheduled end of the class, the students filed out, locking the classroom door behind them. The teacher had never showed. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this, I just wish I knew what it was…]

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