Morocco has a governance problem. The wide-reaching challenge includes issues from basic service provision (lack of access to drinking water, the state of public health, and challenges of infrastructure) to macroeconomic issues (such as unemployment and balancing the budget). Waves of protests that have increasingly beset the country in recent years have highlighted these issues. The most recent is a teachers’ protest and strike that started on the anniversary of the February 20, 2011, mass protests—which in turn led to constitutional revisions that stemmed the tide of the protest movement at the time. The current wave of protests and strikes has been led by what are known as “contractual teachers.” In the most notable of these sporadic protests, on March 23 thousands of teachers from across the country came to Rabat at night, lining the main street between the Ministry of Education’s headquarters and parliament and repeating slogans and chants of grievance and despair by candlelight. While this latest wave of protests may not bring about a fundamental political transformation, it points to the grave and persistent nature of Morocco’s governance challenges.
Kaoutar, a teacher in her early twenties, started teaching in 2017 as part of the second hiring wave of contracted teachers. She signed a contract that stated she had the same benefits package (healthcare and retirement) as all other teachers and Ministry of Education employees and that after two years and a review, her contract would be guaranteed renewal every year. Earlier this year, the government sent along an amendment to that contract, under a new legal framework, explaining that contracted teachers do not have the same benefits as public sector employees. She and thousands of other contracted teachers have been on strike and out of their classroom for four weeks—unsure if she will have a job if she remains on strike but also unsatisfied that the current terms of employment do not offer her much stability.
In her small, remote, rural school, Kaoutar is one of three teachers. She teaches four different levels, often two at a time, miles away from the nearest road. Most rural schools face endless challenges—from providing adequate space, adequate staffing, or the right conditions that would allow children to attend. The protests and strikes are disproportionally affecting rural areas, where the majority of contracted teachers are currently located, exacerbating one of the biggest governance issues facing the country, the disparity between rural and urban, central and peripheral areas. In essence, the way the government has handled the issue exacerbates the very challenges it seeks to redress.
Education, education reform, and the way teachers are employed provide a case study for how Morocco attempts to tackle its governance issues. Morocco’s education system has always struggled to manage the demands of a growing population and to keep up with stated developmental goals. At the same time, the government has struggled with how to reform education without putting further strain on public finances. The public education system takes up a notable portion of the state budget. For the past ten years, education has received between 24 and 30 percent of the total budget (most recently 25.6 percent in 2019 and 27.3 percent in 2018), yet the state seems unable to keep up with demands for reforms or to provide adequate education for rising numbers of students since roughly 2012.
Teachers have traditionally been public sector employees. As such, they make up a significant portion of the country’s public wage bill, which the state has struggled unsuccessfully to reduce. The problem of high public sector spending and the extent to which education dominates it is hardly new. In 2005, after a failed attempt the previous year, the state initiated a “voluntary retirement program” that offered a set sum to a number of public sector employees and administrators—including teachers—if they retired early. This introduced momentary relief that saved Morocco about 1 percent of its GDP per year, but the budget issue remained. In 2016, public wages and pensions for education alone took up 49 percent of the public wage bill. The government tried to remedy this issue by experimenting with various formulas for how to keep an adequate number of teachers without breaking the public bank. Furthermore, the ongoing voluntary retirement program has created a shortage of teachers, to which the state has responded by creating the contracted teaching position. The first wave of contracted teachers, who earned their degrees in 2016, began teaching in January 2017.
For the dissatisfied teachers currently protesting, the issue is one of job security and equality. In Morocco, teachers used to be guaranteed a public sector job following graduation and a certain combination of years of training and testing. In 2016, the state began a campaign to decrease the number of teachers hired as public servants (through the Ministry of Education). Instead, local “academic institutions,” essentially public institutions that are not part of the ministry and therefore do not guarantee a public sector job, offered recently graduated teachers shorter, renewable contracts through the Regional Academies for Education and Training (AREFs). This essentially devolved the responsibility of hiring to regional bodies—per the decentralization framework outlined in the 2011 constitution.
As teachers’ unions point out, one of the main differences in how these teachers are employed is that they are denied access to pensions and retirement plans. Essentially, public sector employees have access to the Moroccan Pension Fund—which offers general retirement plans the state covers through the Deposit and Management Fund. Regional academic institutions instead provide pensions and retirement plans through the Collective Retirement Allowance Plan, which is less of a burden on the state (it is also run by the Deposit and Management Fund but is not considered part of the state budget). Granting access to the state-run pension fund adds to another of the state’s most daunting challenges: reforming pension plans. This is something the state has sought to contend with for years—without much success.
The workaround does address the issue of local unemployment by giving local administrations more opportunities to employ local teachers for local positions, whereas previously, teachers would often be sent on assignments for years to remote locations far away from their families. However, teachers now feel forced into contracts that offer little long-term job security. Since 2016, these contractual teachers (about 55,000 out of all 240,000 teachers) say they have worked through these contracts without an overarching law.
After three waves of contracted teachers, this year a framework was created that prohibits them from applying for any public sector job while currently employed through these contracts. Teachers say that at any moment, regional bodies could get rid of them—since this is employment at will—if, for instance, they have to take extended leave or if they rise through the ranks and their pay grade becomes too high. They say they want to be treated like Ministry of Education employees and are currently demanding to be integrated into the public sector. This, the government categorically rejects. However, the government has promised that instead of offering a contract, teachers would be hired as employees of regional institutions, but the teachers are not satisfied, citing concerns about regional bodies’ long-term financial viability.
For Kaoutar and thousands of other teachers, they see this issue as one of international lending institutions, such as the World Bank and the IMF, putting pressure on the government to make changes. While indeed Morocco has been under pressure to reform its inflated public sector, these teachers’ concerns are not only that they can have no reassurances about the present but also that their careers in education, for which they have studied and trained, offer them no future stability. Kaoutar explained that under the current contract—as amended by the new legal framework—they are promised a monthly retirement pension of around 3,000 dirhams (about $300) per month in 2052 (her rough retirement date), which if inflation remains at the current rate of 1.5 percent would be worth $184 in 2052.
As the strikes continue, prospects of new protests have irked the government, which has struggled with a popular perception of complete incompetence. Among its efforts to stem the issue, the government has threatened to lay off contracted teachers who continue to strike. The government has been loath to negotiate with these teachers, who are not represented by the traditional teachers unions and syndicates, which the teachers feel do not represent their interests. They are instead relying on their own grassroots organization, the National Coordination Committee for Contracted Teachers, with which the government has refused to negotiate. With little dialogue, each day the issue becomes more intractable. Protests and strikes continue. In the meantime, Morocco’s younger generation struggles with greater despair and frustration over their schools’ inability to prepare them for any kind of the future.