Rachida, like many other Moroccan women, never had the opportunity to attend primary school. When the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offered a literacy course for women in the village of Ain Jdid, Rachida was willing to endure taunts from other villagers in order to learn to read and write.
The pre-literacy program that benefited Rachida and more than 10,000 other Moroccan women was designed for mothers and based on a strategy to improve literacy skills while promoting parental support for their children’s education, particularly girls’ education. The literacy and numeracy skills acquired by Rachida and her classmates remain a source of pride among the women and their families. As mothers, these women now share the joy of learning with their school-aged children, some of whom are beneficiaries of other USAID educational programs.
Although Morocco has made substantial progress in increasing access to education, rural women and girls remain the most marginalized group with only one out of seven rural girls enrolled in secondary school. Among rural Moroccan girls aged 15-24, three out of five are illiterate. But not Rachida. Not anymore.
Morocco and the United States: Education Partners
Over the past 15 years, in partnership with the Moroccan Ministry of Education, USAID has supported a growing portfolio of programs that promote girls’ and women’s education. The Morocco Education for Girls program (1997–2003), for example, promoted access and attainment for rural girls and led to a 21 percent increase in girls’ primary school enrollment. Furthermore, the percentage of girls in the targeted regions who reached the sixth grade increased by 24 percent, demonstrating that attainment for girls had been positively affected as well.
Despite a long history of successful collaboration between USAID and the Ministry of Education, low levels of literacy, particularly among women and girls, remain an overarching concern in Morocco. While almost 95 percent of Moroccan children enroll in school (including 92 percent of rural girls), literacy rates in Morocco remain low. Almost a third of youth aged 15-24 cannot read and write.
First Steps to Literacy
The first step to improving literacy among women and girls is identifying the problem and providing early and immediate support.
As part of the Ministry of Education’s national efforts to enhance educational quality, this year USAID is launching a pilot program to assess basic reading and math skills among early primary school students. Data from this student-level intervention will be used to help Moroccan teachers improve teaching practices and will provide feedback to parents on their children’s academic strengths and weaknesses. The data will also be used by school administrators to help structure a teacher-training program based on identified students’ learning needs.
This pilot assessment will take place in Rachida’s region, Doukkala-Abda, a region with traditionally low school enrollment and high illiteracy. This assessment is the first step to ensure that every child learns to read and do basic mathematical operations. Research has shown that the early learning of foundation skills is significantly correlated to academic success, but as Rachida will also tell you, literacy is the key to becoming an independent and lifelong learner. When Rachida speaks about learning to read and thus being able to better support her children’s education, she smiles and says that “we women have paved the way to a new life!”
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. government.