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Last Updated: Monday, 15 September, 2003, 04:33 GMT 05:33 UK
Moroccan schools teach Berber
By Sebastian Usher
BBC correspondent in Rabat

The Berber language is being taught in Moroccan schools for the first time from Monday.

The classes will be taught in just a few hundred primary schools to begin with, but the government says the aim is to have Berber classes taught in all schools and at all levels within the next 10 years.

A Berber shepherd from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco
Some 60% of Moroccans are ethnically Berber
The move is a sign of increasing recognition of Moroccan Berbers, who have long complained of being denied their rights despite constituting the majority of the population.

As the new academic year begins in Morocco, 317 primary schools will start giving their first-year pupils lessons in the Berber language.

It is the first step in the fulfilment of a promise made nearly 10 years ago by the late King Hassan to bring Berber into the classroom.

Many had doubted it would ever happen at all.

Although it is estimated that at least 60% of Moroccans are ethnically Berber, or Amazigh as they are known in their own language, Morocco's constitution enshrines Arabic as the country's only official language.

The fact that Berbers were the original inhabitants of North Africa before the Arab invasions of the 7th century has been seen as a potential challenge to their authority by Morocco's Arab rulers ever since.

In the 20th century, there were several Berber rebellions.

As a result the freedom even to choose a Berber name for a child has been banned.

Cultural survival

Berber activists say the Moroccan authorities' refusal to accept their distinctive heritage amounts to an attempt to destroy their cultural and linguistic identity.

But under King Mohammed, who succeeded his father Hassan four years ago, there has been some progress towards recognising greater Berber rights.

A royal institute for Amazigh culture was set up in 2001; Berber history pre-dating the Arab invasion can now be discussed and taught.

Bringing the language into the classroom will go some way towards answering the concerns of Berber parents that not being able to speak their first language at school makes it harder for their children to achieve literacy.

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31 Jul 03  |  Africa

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