Digital Skills and the Future of Work: Post-Pandemic in Morocco
In recent history, technology has played an integral role in people’s lives around the world from education, social services, and everyday transactions. Particularly the impact of COVID-19 in 2020 has prompted Internet users to utilize digital tools to seek refuge, to reach out to loved ones, to speak out against oppression, and to solicit guidance for the world to come. Unfortunately, a vast majority of people most impacted by the detrimental effects of COVID-19 are either unable to access the Internet or do not have adequate digital skills or information about how best to utilize the opportunities afforded by these resources. In Morocco, telecommunications access is quite expansive paired with government policies and initiatives that have been enacted to provide better services to citizens; however, basic digital skills remain low compared to its North African counterparts and many services do not trickle down to its vulnerable populations.
The Moroccan Internet Society and Douar Tech independently promote aspects of digital excellence in Moroccan youth and vulnerable groups; our aims are to inform citizens of resources available and to recount deficits that may be inhibiting the growth of digital skills among the population. The Internet was created on the basis of opportunity, empowerment, knowledge and freedom. The Internet Society stands by the vision that “The Internet is for everyone.” However, before Moroccan citizens are able to take control of their future opportunities through these tools, specified information must be circulated to these groups for a truly inclusive and accessible path to the future in the digital age.
Our Internet Today
In just the first few weeks of the pandemic, the world experienced an entire year’s worth of growth in Internet traffic, which has increased by about 30%. The World Wide Web, synonymous with our “modern-day Internet,” was only invented in 1990. Over the past 30 years, we have swiftly witnessed digital progression from dial-up Internet through the current expansion of 5G technology. In 1996, 45 million people worldwide were accessing the Internet; today, nearly 7.8 billion people are online. However, digital skills training continues to lag behind in many countries, which inhibits their citizens from keeping up with a rapidly changing global economy. Specifically based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, Morocco’s technology readiness rating stands at 3.88, ranking below Tunisia and Egypt with scores of 4.23 and 4.66, respectively (World Economic Forum, 2018).
COVID-19 has created a fundamental example of the link between digital acclimation and national trends of citizens’ adaptability for the future of work. In particular, Estonia has emerged as “the nation best prepared for the consequences of the pandemic, both economically and socially.” (New Yorker, 2020) The small, post-Soviet nation functions through a digital government allowing nearly all citizen services to be available online. In a survey evaluating implementation of student e-learning programs across EU nations, from the Center for European Policy Studies, Estonia ranked first. The country’s initial reaction following its State of Emergency declaration was to launch Hack the Crisis, prompting digital solutions and innovations to the pandemic. The initiative has since been replicated through 67 editions across every continent, sparking a global outcry for swift technological innovations and a dynamic change for the future. Overall, the citizens of Estonia have emerged from the pandemic with a sense of preparedness and solidarity for what is still to come, given their predisposition to the new digital reality and its uncertain future.
Internet equipment has quickly grown across Morocco with 25% of the population equipped in 2010 to 70% in 2017 (ANRT, 2017). In addition, 99.78% of households are equipped with at least one mobile phone and 58% with a laptop or tablet (ANRT, 2017). Looking to the future, the country stands at a pivotal moment to shift its ICT sector beyond telecommunications, through greater promotion and adoption of digital solutions. Infrastructure generally extends to many rural areas in Morocco and costs remain low for mobile broadband, comparatively to other countries on the African continent. However, the prevalence of digital skills training is required in reducing social inequalities to leverage the country’s overall economic stature. The implementation of these efforts in rural areas requires a major overhaul of the current public school ICT curriculum, sensitization of students to education technology resources, and overall dissemination of programs and opportunities through digital careers.
The Kingdom possesses strategic tools through this robust infrastructure to expand digital skills education and sensitization of disenfranchised populations, but it must implement policy and educational programs based on the realistic needs of the rural context. For example, Douar Tech is leading an innovative operation to promote economic independence of vulnerable youth through blended learning models that include innovative web development instruction, inclusive networks linked to premier professionals in the digital ecosystem, and incorporation of principles through emotional intelligence and empathic leadership. By including disenfranchised groups through accessible and inclusive growth trends of digital expansion, Morocco may encourage its viability for economic growth across sectors.
Legal Frameworks Go Digital in Morocco
At the onslaught of the pandemic, the Moroccan government presented a bill aimed at creating a legal basis to stem the spread of fake news on social media. On 30 March, the Moroccan Ministry of Health also launched a new web app for doctors, specialist medical staff and experts in a bid to ensure faster and improved exchange among experts in relation to medical strategies in the battle against the virus. Even before the pandemic, the Moroccan government has been creating legal frameworks to assess the state of readiness of enterprises and administrations in the digital age and to leverage the acceleration of digital transformation in Morocco through the use of digital strategy as the central pillar of the Kingdom’s global competitiveness.
In particular, the Kingdom’s Agency for Digital Development, enacted in 2017, has laid out a proposal for a national program with the aim of transforming Morocco into the digital hub of Africa. Specific goals for 2025 include aims for (1) Inclusive society through digitalization; (2) Digital administration platforms for citizens and businesses; and (3) Digital and innovative ecosystems for a competitive economy. Post-COVID, these goals will become even more relevant and prioritized in order to maintain economic inclusivity with public health demands and protocols. If the program is effectively facilitated, it may serve as an investment in the Moroccan population’s access to expanded digital skills education, outlets for mobile banking and finance options, and diversified economic sector availability.
Technology Education in Morocco
In Morocco, several roadblocks exist for students in their search of digital skills including linguistic barriers, lack of qualified instructors or accessible equipment, outdated curriculum disconnected from job market needs, and generally hindered mindsets linked to vocational studies like technology. These systemic barriers have adapted in urban environments but not yet trickled down to many rural areas, and beyond them Morocco still faces challenges with high dropout rates and lack of role models or digitally literate parental figures.
Morocco’s public schools currently enroll students in ICT courses for a 2-3 year period in the last years of College and first year of Lycee, training students in skills through technical topics in Microsoft Word and Excel. However, the curriculum does not offer acclimation to practical, employable skills in topics like Microsoft PowerPoint or basic computer literacy. The courses are typically required to be instructed in French, which creates a gap between the root understanding of the realistically English-centered, technology job market and students’ native tongue, particularly in these rural areas. It is also quite common that rural schools are not even assigned a Technology teacher to the school, due to the general lack of qualified candidates and occasional budget cuts, causing students to miss a year if not complete instruction of courses. Finally, there are many rural schools that do not possess computers to physically instruct courses; therefore, these students are required to learn the curriculum by pencil and paper, without ever feeling the touch of a mouse and keyboard.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the government has made a push to digitize education swiftly and ensure that students continue to receive their studies. Courses have been streamed through the 24/7 news network, recruiting public school teachers to contribute recorded courses on a voluntary basis, without additional compensation for this expended work. In addition, the government quickly migrated to Microsoft Education for teachers to manage their coursework and student collaboration; however, a solution created for Western nations did not suit the local context, causing confusion and ultimately limited functionality between teacher, student, and administration. This problem is not unique to Morocco, as global education systems call for unique and dynamic e-learning solutions to address a trend that paves the way for a new reality. While e-learning solutions are certainly achievable in Morocco, given the infrastructure available, it will require a thorough dissemination of resources and adequate training of teachers and students to boost the technological readiness required for such action.
Beyond technology education at a secondary level, the Office de la Formation Professionnelle et de la Promotion du Travail (OFPPT), offers ICT-related training in several cities across the country. Their programs offer a strategic, employable approach to skills-based training and a direct connection to the workplace. However, the connotation of a vocational degree does not carry the social weight of a traditional university degree in today’s Moroccan society. Although Moroccan universities offer little career coaching or applicability of skill transmission, their popularity as a prospect among rural Moroccan youth remains high. In another initiative, several academies have launched around the country like 1337 and YouCode to train Moroccan youth on full-stack web development and internship insertion. However, the information regarding these training programs still requires adequate marketing transmitted to isolated, rural communities. In order to change the culture of academic studies, youth must be assimilated at a much earlier age to provide adequate context to understand the relationship between transferable skills and the job market, as well as the growing opportunities available to them throughout the country.
Reaching Vulnerable Groups
Beyond rural youth enrolled in the public school system, there remains a broad section of vulnerable Moroccan citizens who would categorically not access many opportunities that could easily be transferred through a traditional class context. In 2018, nearly 432,000 students dropped out of school during the year at various levels of education. In particular, many women in rural areas remain illiterate, thereby impeding their access to most content available by the Internet. Douar Tech recently led a Hackathon for its students to create innovative, digital solutions for a post-COVID world; one group of students created an interactive web app to remotely teach illiterate persons to read, write and understand Arabic script with voice-activated technology. Another Moroccan organization, The Anou, works with rural women’s cooperatives to export artisan products to international markets. They created an innovative supply chain tool that supports logistics and management between all levels of the organization through an automated WhatsApp bot, allowing illiterate groups to communicate only through photos, emoji symbols and numbers. By creating inclusive technology solutions directed to vulnerable populations, Morocco may forge a more accessible and innovative digital economy inspiring future growth.
Ultimately, language will persist as a major roadblock for digital skills transmission given that 0.8% of information available on the Internet is available in the Arabic language. Even beyond Arabic literacy, a major subset of Morocco’s vulnerable population speaks primarily in local Amazigh dialect that remains spoken, rather than written communication. Several international groups continue to push for expanded oral content offerings to include these minority groups, but the linguistic digital divide may continue to expand until we create adaptable solutions specific to such groups.
Will the Informal Sector Go Digital?
Ultimately, the transmission of digital skills is required for vulnerable groups to integrate into services of modern society and to access the opportunities forged through the future of work. In the Kingdom of Morocco, alone, 58.7% of workers are employed through the informal sector economy (ILO, 2018). According to the ILO, informal employment is “all remunerative work (i.e. both self-employment and wage employment) that is not registered, regulated or protected by existing legal or regulatory frameworks. Informal workers do not have secure employment contracts, workers’ benefits, social protection or workers’ representation.” These people have largely been ejected from their economic prospects in the current context, and the future of their work remains uncertain.
As an organization, Douar Tech specifically works with youth conditioned for the Moroccan informal sector; we provide high-level technical training through an innovative curriculum, directly inserting students to mentorship and paid, web-based work opportunities. Furthermore, we encourage them to register as “auto-entrepreneurs” securing tax identification and access points to social services, thereby leveraging them to the formal sector. By connecting legal frameworks and expanding relationships to the digital economy, we are convinced that the narrative of innovation and diversified employment will spark trends in vulnerable communities through skill transmission.
The Moroccan Internet Society and Douar Tech mutually see the Internet as an essential tool for societal growth that requires inclusivity and accessibility to all groups. As we move forward to address the digital divide that persists, we consider its affections by linguistic requirements, education levels, income, and level of technology available. By studying the general disposition of the Moroccan citizen at many levels of society, we can understand the approaches required to combat the digital divide that remains specific to the narratives of Morocco’s diverse demographic landscape. Without the dissemination of digital skills to all levels of society, an accessible telecommunications infrastructure does not truly serve the groups that most require inclusion. However, in its foundation the nature of the Internet as a vehicle for opportunity, freedom and empowerment, offers inevitable hope that through impact and effort, we can ensure together that “the Internet is for everyone.”
by Fay Cowper, National Coordinator for Douar Tech