By Ismail Hashim Abubakar
In discussion with some Nigerians here in Rabat, I learnt of a few brilliant Nigerian students who came through the Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) scheme and have reportedly excelled in their various disciplines. Perhaps it is not worth a surprise if Nigerian students excel in any field of study abroad. But, the inspiration of awe lies chiefly in the fact that those successful students who came to Morocco did not have any prior background in French, which is the language of instruction for BEA based programs at institutions in Morocco.
One of the students had studied medicine and is now doing well in his housemanship at one of the Moroccan teaching hospitals. A few months ago, when I visited the Nigerian Embassy in Rabat, I met another student who came through BEA for an undergraduate course in Engineering. When she finished, she, on personal endeavour and self-sponsorship, registered for a master’s degree and completed it successfully, thanks to sustained gradual savings and a moderate lifestyle. She is now planning to continue with a PhD, which means French as the language of instruction has never occluded her academic performance, besides being personally enthusiastic and attentive towards her studies.
The above are just examples from the hundreds of cases of Nigeria’s best brains that are usually retained by their host counties to work and earn a living at the end of the day. But, at the same time, they invest their intelligence to contribute to the development of their host countries.
However, it is imperative to note that many BEA students, of course, don’t find it easy to grapple with French as the language of instruction. The policy is that fresh students drawn from non-francophone countries are first registered at Centre International de Languages in Rabat to undergo a French language acquisition course within the maximum duration of 6 months. Then, after passing examinations, they are free to choose universities within any city in Morocco to pursue undergraduate programs.
The available courses for study cut across and permeate disciplines related to medical and health sciences, engineering, and other pure sciences, not necessarily excluding the least patronised areas such as social and management sciences. I have interacted with quite many Nigerian students and heard their study preferences, which they hope to determine their future careers. Most of the students expressed great interest in specialising in health and medical courses and engineering and other science courses. Meanwhile, the chief impediment that would retard their effort to attain their desired feat entirely is the language factor, due to which they are initially engaged in preparatory French courses.
Besides personal testimonies from affected students who underwent and passed such language courses, I have witnessed an occasion whereby some Nigerians who also passed through the same process failed to make simple communication with francophone colleagues and had to resort to English to avoid the premature abortion of interaction among acquaintances. Perhaps this embarrassment would not be as damning if the communication was through French writing symbols. But what is baffling is that these students had accordingly sat for the exams and have, without exception, performed to a satisfactory level that could qualify them for regular undergraduate courses at Moroccan Universities. An in-depth investigation seems necessary before one unearths the secret behind this reality vis-a-vis the actuality of their alleged mastery of the French language.
Nonetheless, it is yet helpful to mull over a personal confession of one student who claimed that she saw many of her colleagues resorting to the culture of mutual “copy and paste” among themselves during one of their French course tests. While Moroccan schools have strict monitoring mechanisms to detect examination malpractice, lethargic students always devise new ways to perpetrate their malice during exams. Hence, this lays bare the situation the students find themselves in as they pursue their higher studies and get exposed to much more complex and complicated stages in their learning career using the language they had never known throughout their basic and post-basic levels of education.
Besides the fact that Morocco is one of the most peaceful countries blessed with a serene atmosphere, magnificent and eye-catching tourist sites and conducive learning environment, its educational system is highly advanced and incomparable to many African countries in terms of both quality and infrastructural development, thanks to the allocation of more than the UNESCO benchmark from its annual budget to the education sector.
Hence, it is not expected that parents whose children are nominated to study there through BEA will decline the much-coveted opportunity. As such, many students would instead prefer to do all they could to pass through the required study duration even if they are not fully equipped with the language medium that would guarantee their mastery of their various areas of specialisation. Understandably, most of them will have neither learned enough French nor fully grasped the actual content of their disciplines and finally be less productive to their mother country.
Nigerian authorities need to be reminded that students who ‘graduate’ from these Francophone institutions will soon join the civil service and occupy various professional positions. Likewise, those who study sensitive health and medical courses will join the health sector and begin their career, which entails having direct access to patients and intervening in matters related to life and death.
To avert erecting houses on ashes or putting one’s eggs in a basket, by securing a more realistic future for its students, Nigeria can negotiate with Moroccan authorities to craft a solution, whereas English will be introduced as an optional medium of instruction. Needless to say, one can vouch that Morocco has highly skilled and highly qualified teachers who have adequate mastery of the English language. But, interestingly, there is now an epistemological/linguistic divarication whereby English accepted as a language in which postgraduate projects are carried out at some Moroccan institutions.
Importantly, through further inquiry on the constituencies from which Nigerian BEA students are drawn annually, it is clear that most of them come from Federal Government Colleges situated in various states of the federation. For Nigeria to fully benefit from this bilateral educational agreement, it has to expand the scope of schools from which it nominates candidates coming to Morocco for study. Students who want to read other fields such as Law, Economics, English and other human, social and management sciences need to be included in the scheme. But if the truth must be told and the spade be called by its name, the most potent window of opportunity, as long as Nigeria aspires to exploit from this diplomatic arrangement with Morocco, is to incorporate various Arabic and Islamic secondary schools as constituencies from which to source candidates for its BEA scholarship award in Morocco. With the recent upgrade and standardisation of the National Board for Arabic and Islamic Studies (NBAIS), students who complete their O levels from schools under NBAIS will perform well when they are part of the beneficiaries of BEA. Understandably, they already have a considerable Arabic to hitchlessly pair up at Moroccan universities, without any need to undergo a preparatory language course. Furthermore, the same window should be opened for those who read these courses at Nigerian universities and aspire to pursue postgraduate studies at Moroccan universities.
The years of marginalisation of this class of students as candidates of BEA have rendered them sort of semi Nigerians and evinced the usual inequality that characterises Nigeria’s treatment of its citizens.
In the same vein, hundreds of Nigerians have striven to sponsor themselves or secure some assistance from families or philanthropists to study in Morocco. Most of them do not return to Nigeria after completing undergraduate programs but go on to PhD levels. Given the shaky economic situations of their sponsors, some of them at times wallow in despair as they find it hard to make ends meet, and it is evident that grand national intervention will be helpful. In this context, BEA is hereby called to consider extending some form of aid even if not integrating them into the graciously packaged BEA scheme.
Ismail wrote from Rabat (firstname.lastname@example.org).