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Morocco excels in mathematics

Longstanding tradition of promoting math and science pays off.

Moroccan schoolboys
Moroccans pride themselves on a tradition of excellence in teaching mathematics in schools. Here Moroccan schoolboys play in the Tangiers Casbah (Old City).(Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo caption: Moroccans pride themselves on a tradition of excellence in teaching mathematics in schools. Here Moroccan schoolboys play in the Tangiers Casbah, or Old City. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Moroccans pride themselves on a tradition of excellence in teaching mathematics.

Indeed, for decades, the North African country has chalked up high achievement in math — a discipline that does not require lots of material means and relies instead on the students' mental abilities to deal with abstract concepts.

“An ambition to succeed came with the independence [from France in 1956]. Mathematics because they were so difficult and theoretical, fascinated people,” explained Abdelghani Zrikem, a retired math professor. “People can study maths anywhere and anytime. It doesn’t require any mean or actual conception.”

Thousands of Moroccan students — mostly males — are pursuing a scientific education in some of the most prestigious schools in the world.

For instance, Ali Aouad, 20, started his second year at the world famous Ecole Polythechnique de Paris, reputed for recruiting the finest students in the world and for its extremely difficult admission process. Morocco's academic curriculums are very similar to the ones in France, because Morocco was under a French protectorate from 1912 to 1956.

Morocco is the second nationality most represented in the Grandes Ecoles (name given to the elite schools in France) after China, according to the most recent statistics released by the SCEI, an organization that keeps track of admissions in engineering schools in France. At the University Les Mines — another prestigious engineering school — five times more Moroccan students are admitted than their Tunisian neighbors.

Getting into these schools is extremely competitive. After two years in preparatory schools that provide an intensive training for a nationwide test, tens of thousands of students compete for only a few hundred spots at the top schools.

Karim Arji is an engineer based in Marrakesh. He first went to high school in the French school of Marrakesh before attending a Moroccan preparatory school that allowed him to be admitted at L’ESTP in Paris in 1996. The abrupt switch from the French to the Moroccan system meant that Arji was in faster paced courses and was surrounded by students more advanced in mathematics.

“The students from the Moroccan high schools had a particular easiness with maths. There are concepts in maths that are completely abstract and impossible to explain but they had this ability to instantaneously solve a problem,” said Arji. “They had studied chapters in high school that were already very advanced.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/education/101006/morocco-math-education