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    In early September, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook the Alhaouz region in the heart of Morocco, destroying 50 000 homes and severely damaging 1 000 schools, many of which had to be demolished. Teachers and students in rural areas most affected by the disaster lost their homes and were forced to sleep in the highly damaged school buildings, which were already seriously rundown even before the earthquake hit.

    While Morocco spends about 5% of its gross domestic product on education, current resources aren’t enough to maintain, upgrade and expand the network of 8 022 primary schools, particularly in rural areas. These old buildings haven’t been renewed since they were built in the 1970s and 1980s, and they offer poor sanitary conditions for students and teachers, who have to walk great distances to learn and teach.

    Morocco was already planning to build new infrastructure as part of a national effort to improve education in remote areas, like the Atlas Mountains, which trail the rest of the country in academic performance. (Only 44% of girls in rural areas attend lower secondary schools, compared with 82% in urban areas.) After the earthquake, the Ministry of Education is speeding up applications for building permits, so that reconstruction can begin by end of 2023.

    “This project is a game-changer for education in Morocco,” says Didier Bosman, a senior architect who’s working on the European Investment Bank’s financing for the project. “It’s a top priority for the Moroccan Ministry of Education, to close the gap between urban and rural areas.”

    The European Investment Bank loaned €102.5 million to Morocco to build 150 community schools (pre-primary and primary schools), and to provide necessary infrastructure such as school equipment, boarding facilities and transport. All the resources will now be shifted to areas hit hardest by the earthquake.

    In October, the European Investment Bank pledged €1 billion over the next three years to Morocco's post-earthquake reconstruction programme.

    To help plan the investments, Morocco also received an additional grant of €650 000 under the EIB’s Economic Resilience Initiative, a fund which supports resilient and inclusive growth in Europe's Southern Neighbourhood and the Western Balkans. That will pay for technical assistance in planning the project, which includes an in-depth study of the needs and challenges of rural schools.

    The study will serve as a blueprint for future education projects in the country.

    Educational challenges

    Only 27% of Moroccan 15-year-olds attain minimum proficiency in reading, against an average of 77%, according to the latest data from the Programme for International Student Assessment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. High drop-out rates in the early school years mean that only two-thirds of young people finish lower secondary education.

    At the same time, one of the main obstacles to gender equality is girls dropping out of school, which weighs on their job prospects.

    “Education in Morocco is mandatory until age 15, and it’s free,” says Bosman. “The issue is that many children fail to attend, girls in particular. Less than 60% of children finish middle school in urban areas, and in rural regions, they don’t even enrol as they need to help their families.”

    The European Commission is also providing extra support through bilateral programs in education in Morocco.

    Rundown rural schools

    Rural primary schools in Morocco are considered satellite schools, learning spaces that are physically distant from the original campus and usually smaller. Some of these learning spaces are run without a headmaster.

    The approach brings schools closer to the inhabitants of rural and extremely remote regions, but the infrastructure is rudimentary, with simple concrete buildings. Schools can overflow with 800 students whereas they were designed for a maximum of a hundred.

    Teachers and students often live on site, particularly since some children travel long distances to get to school. Living conditions are poor, without electricity or functioning bathrooms. This lack of infrastructure poses problems for adolescent girls, many of whom drop out of school when they start menstruating or when they start secondary school a long way from home.


    The douar of Ait Bouguemmaz.

    Scoping out education needs

    Before starting construction, an EIB technical assistance team visited over 30 community schools, such as the Eghrem N’ougdal school in Ouarzazate and École Vivante in the Ait Bouguemmaz valley in the Atlas Mountains, to better understand the challenges. The aim was to fully understand the needs of local communities and the teaching methods, curriculum and training provided to local teachers.

    Morocco also received an additional loan of €9 million from the Neighbourhood Investment Platform for educational resources and to improve teaching practices.

    The conclusions of the study carried out by the technical assistance team led the Ministry of Education to draw up a new set of guidelines for the construction of rural schools, which were enacted by decree. The new guidelines cover the various steps in setting up a community school, from identifying needs to choosing partners for construction and procurement in accordance with EIB standards and local regulations.

    The guidelines are currently being validated and adopted by the various regional agencies of the Morocco’s Education Ministry, and they will be used for the 150 rural community schools planned throughout the country.


    A new definition of rural community schools

    The new schools will be more adapted to the difficult conditions and include electricity and sewerage systems, such as water recovery and treatment. They will also be adapted to the reality of isolated douars which often lack spaces for local communities and be able to cover the absence of any first aid facilities.

    The new schools will also have other conveniences, such as transport, catering and lodging for students and teachers alike.

    Rural schools project also includes a new curriculum for students that is adapted to their daily lives and tasks. The hope is that teaching children more relevant skills may help sway parents who doubt the value of education.  In addition to basic math and reading skills, children will learn how to plant vegetables, how to distinguish different types of soil and how to create and use natural fertiliser.

    “We set about identifying a model for a community school integrated into its socio-environmental environment,” Bosman says.

    To tackle gender inequality, the EIB, via the technical assistance team it has set up for this purpose, is developing a communication campaign for families with female children that stresses the importance of school and how it can change lives.

    The Education Ministry plans to integrate the study findings into a new education decree applicable to all Moroccan rural primary schools, with the goal of closing education gaps. Some local communities are eager to improve education, Bosman says, they just need support.

    “While there is still a lot to be done in education in Morocco, there are some good examples too,” he says. “In the mountain region, a woman created a primary school with classes adapted to handicapped children, financed by the Ministry of Education. She was so successful, she created a college so that the students could keep up with their education.”

    “This what we want to see countrywide.”