Berber girls find the way out of rural poverty

In Moroccos Atlas mountains, Berber girls find the way out of rural poverty

The remoteness of many villages meant that secondary school was not an option

Deep in Moroccos High Atlas mountains, in the hamlet of Tazalt, two girls are doing their laundry in stream water. Inside one of the small reddish-brown stone houses, Malika Boumessoud, 38, is serving sweet mint tea and looking at a photo of herself while shaking her head at how old she looks.

In the next room, where five of her six children all sleep on two single mattresses on the floor, Boumessouds daughter Zahra, 19, is preparing to leave this classic scene of rural Moroccan life. She is a participant in a bold new experiment that could transform the lives of the girls and young women in the region: unlike the vast majority of her peers, Zahra is being granted an education.

For the past seven years, she has lived in a boarding house run by a small Moroccan NGO, Education For All (EFA), in the town of Asni, 56 kilometres away. The house is a five-minute walk from the school she has attended during the week since the age of 12. In September, she hopes to go to university in Marrakech. Her mother, who married at 16, is acutely aware of how different her daughters life could have been had Zahra finished school at 12, like most of the other girls in the valley.

I still wish I had gone to school, says Malika. Even after all these years of marriage and having all my children, I still regret not finishing my education. I dont go out of the village, I just stay in the house day after day. I feel like a bird without any wings..

In rural Morocco, her experience is far from rare. Illiteracy rates for rural women and girls remain as high as 90%. Girls, especially those in areas such as the High Atlas, are more likely to drop out after primary school. Only 26% of girls in rural areas enrol for secondary education, according to the World Bank.

These problems disproportionately affect the Amazigh, commonly known as Berbers, the indigenous people of Morocco. While most Berbers adopted Islam and began speaking Arabic after the conquests of the seventh century, Berber culture and dialects of the Tamazight language survived, especially in the High Atlas. At school, lessons are in Arabic, which for most Berber children is their second language, if they have it at all. Unsurprisingly, they do poorly compared with Arabic children.

But in rural areas, its the distance to secondary schools that presents the biggest barrier, especially for girls. Khalid Chenguiti, education specialist at Unicef Morocco says: Girls education, especially at secondary level, remains a challenge. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that schools are often poorly equipped with washrooms and sanitary facilitation, transportation is often difficult and, in some areas, girls are still required to support domestic tasks and face sociocultural barriers for completion of higher secondary education. These factors often disproportionately affect girls in rural areas.

Chenguiti explains why its a crucial problem to solve: Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school.

EFAs solution is to bring the girls to the schools, an approach which is beginning to change the lives of Berber girls in a way that could transform the regions future. Their boarding houses, which are run solely by Berber women, provide accommodation, healthy food, support with homework and extra French and English lessons. On average, the pass rate for all academic years is 97%.

Zahra bubbles with enthusiasm for the chance that has been handed to her: At primary school, I really enjoyed studying but I knew there was little chance I would get to go to secondary school. When I was selected [by EFA], I was so happy. I was really nervous when I first got to the boarding house but I feel like I have found myself since being there.

Literary levels for girls in rural Morocco can be as low as 10% Photograph: Education for All

I believe I will now have a good future and will be able to improve things for my family. My parents have been so supportive. They wanted me to have a better life than the one they have had. My first year of university will be very hard, she says. Im sure, as its a very different life there, but I think it will be good for me.

In bustling Marrakech, which feels like a different planet in comparison to the mountain villages, Khadijah Ahedouami, 21, knows exactly how Zahra is feeling. Three years ago she was in the same position. She has no regrets, but it has been far from an easy road.

I actually failed my first year, she says. Coming to Marrakech and studying all these new subjects was a hard thing for me to do, especially because I had only just got used to learning in Arabic, but at university everything is in French. I also had to get used to living in the city which is so different.

The culture shock wasnt the only thing she struggled with. Her mother had died while she was in upper secondary school and soon afterwards she lost her brother-in-law. I had some family problems and my father had just remarried following the death of my mother.

Even though it was a year and a half after she died, my first year was the hardest time because I was living away from home. With everything going on, I thought if I push myself with my studies, Im going to lose my mind, so I decided it was OK to take things slowly and repeat my first year.

Ahedouami was one of the 10 girls who went to live in Asni with EFA when the first house opened nine years ago. It was her mother who passionately wanted her to have an education because she had grown up in Casablanca, where its normal for girls to be in school. But they first had to persuade her father.

She says: My father agreed we could go to see the house and when we found it, he thought it seemed OK and liked Latifa, the house mother. He asked if I wanted to stay, and of course I said, yes. Studying is my purpose in life.

Khadijah is now not only the most educated girl in her village but the most educated in the whole valley. So respected is she that when she is home villagers come to her house to ask for advice on problems with their businesses or families. A lot of responsibility rests on her young shoulders.

She says: In my final year of school, I started to prepare my parents for the idea that I might go to university. By then, my parents trusted me but they only did because I earned it. During my years with EFA, I learned how to talk to people, how to spend my money, and how to stay respectable. And because other families look to me as an example when trying to decide whether to send their girls to school, I feel like I have to act very responsibly so they know education doesnt make you go off the rails.

Maryk Stroosnijder, one of the founders of EFA, says: I think it is quite hard for the first girls because others look up to them, but the attitudes are slowly changing. The first parents took a risk and now we have parents begging us to take their girls.

Nor is Stroosnijder surprised to hear about Zahras mother feeling like a bird without wings because, she says, many mothers feel the same. But, she adds, they are giving their daughters wings.

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Teachers fear computing GCSE is ‘compromised’ – BBC News

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption This year’s OCR GCSE in computing is “blatantly compromised”, say teachers

Teachers fear a GCSE exam in computing has been “blatantly compromised” after students found answers to a controlled assessment task in a course textbook.

One teacher said his class had produced almost identical answers to a practical investigation task in this year’s OCR computing GCSE.

The students told him the answers were in a 2012 course textbook co-authored by a senior OCR computing examiner.

But OCR says it is confident the task is not compromised.

The teacher, who asked not to be named, said that when he checked the textbook, written by Sean O’Byrne and George Rouse and published jointly by OCR and Hodder Education, he realised an example problem, with the answers, was almost identical to a task in this year’s practical investigation controlled assessment.

Image caption The textbook example is the same one used in the controlled assessment for this year’s OCR GCSE in computing

The controlled assessment is an investigative piece of work for students, taking approximately 20 hours of their time.

Students are expected to work independently according to OCR guidance which states: “It should be remembered that candidates are required to reach their own judgements and conclusions without any guidance or assistance.”

The work is graded by teachers who must submit marks for moderation by mid-May.

“It’s really irritating to me as a teacher,” one commented.

“The students have spent two years learning and now I want to see the results of what they have learned. I want to see a fair distribution of marks for them.

“This disadvantages pupils at those schools which can’t afford textbooks.

“Also, weaker kids are going to do better than they should have done while the good kids might think this is too obvious and may mess up because they get confused and will do more poorly than they should do.

“They have to show they can plan, understand the technology and tackle practical skills – but now they have found this is published in a textbook they don’t have to.”

Copied answers

The teacher added that it would be impossible to know which students had worked completely independently and which had copied answers from the textbook.

Reducing the marks available for this task would disadvantage schools which had opted for this task rather than either of the other two options, said the teacher.

On an online forum another called it “a very serious matter”.

“I need to know there is a level playing field for my students who have slogged their guts out over the past year to do each of the 20-hour controlled assessment tasks without any direction from me as dictated by the exam board.”

Image caption Textbook co-author George Rouse was OCR’s chief computing examiner in 2013

A teacher also questioned the advisability of senior examiners writing textbooks in the subject they are examining.

Co-author George Rouse gave a talk to the BETT education technology fair in 2013 as OCR’s chief examiner for computing GCSE.

‘No advantage’

In a statement, OCR said it took the standard of assessments very seriously.

“After investigation, we are confident that this controlled assessment task is not compromised.

“OCR would like to reassure schools and students that candidates will not gain an advantage from copying from a textbook as part of an assessment task.”

A spokesman later clarified that students would need to do more than just copy from the textbook to gain good marks – as the task depended on understanding and tackling practical problems.

The exams regulator Ofqual said OCR had notified them of the problem and was investigating.

In July 2014, two controlled assessment units in OCR’s computing GCSE had to be replaced after the answers appeared online. OCR says there are no similarities to the most recent incident.

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