A Young Woman’s Mission to Integrate Creativity into Schools

By Zoe Buchli

Marya Joudani, 24, is enthusiastic about integrating art into education This stems mainly from her time at Connect Institute, where she was a student for two years and currently works as a coordinator.

“It’s only when I joined Connect Institute that I started to notice the differences between the way school is today and the way it should be,” she said.  

Nestled in a growing housing development in Agadir, a beach town in southern Morocco, Connect is housed in a large, modern building. The school provides “alternative higher education” and admits students based on their abilities, not their degrees or grades so far. During the day, it is a home for about 30  young adults who are given the opportunity to build their creative skill sets: story-telling, , writing for an in-house magazine, making movies, acting in plays and developing multi-media projects.

During her first year at Connect, opportunities began to arise for Joudani. In her early months at the institute, she was able to help plan the logistics of various events, including musical shows and storytelling competitions where she helped Connect reach out to community members from Agadir to join in their activities. She was also given the resources to create videos to promote these events.

Marya began her time at Connect in 2015 following three years at the University of Agadir studying economics. “To be honest I was bored at the university,” she explained. Connect struck her as a place where people were “motivated to make change and do hard work.”

In the public schools she attended growing up, Joudani said, creativity and the arts didn’t hold an important place in the curriculum. And  even when art is taught, in most Moroccan public schools the assignments are rigid, giving kids little to no creative leeway. If a child does not do an assignment exactly to the teacher’s guideline, said Joudani, they will fail as a student.

“It’s not about more hours. Or more subjects. The schooling environment does not encourage creativity. I think we should find an alternative,” argued Joudani. “And for me the only learning method I believe in is the one we have in Connect.”

She added that learning how to experiment and conduct research is omitted from public school curriculum too, and that because of this, kids aren’t effectively taught how to conduct research on their own, which is detrimental when it comes time for college, where research is a core part of the academic expectations.

Following her first year, Joudani chose to enroll in a second year at Connect. While working on her coursework, she simultaneously became involved in Connect’s theater group, known as “Connect Institute Play,” which subsequently became one her favorite creative outlets.

“The plays really let my creativity run wild,” she said. This was Joudani’s first experience with theater, and it has since become an important creative outlet for her. In addition to performing at Connect, her group was able to share their work at Racines, an NGO based out of Casablanca, which also champtions the importance of arts in education.

After two years as a student at Connect, Joudani decided to find a job. She ended up working at a customer service call center for about 10 months selling internet services to people. For six days a week, eight hours a day, she would make the same phone call to different people.

“It was just doing the same thing over and over and over,” Joudani said.  

After several months working here, Connect’s founder, Taha Balafrej, called Joudani and invited her to work at Connect, an opportunity she gladly accepted. Since then, she has been able to find her groove again, promoting the arts and helping young adults to build their communicative and creative skills.

As for her future, Joudani is largely focused on continuing her work: building creative learning alternatives and partnering with associations where she can help bring about change. Eventually she would like to work specifically with children under the age of 10.

“A child’s ability to express creativity should not die in school,” Joudani said.

She also wants to remain here in Morocco, where she believes there is plenty of work to be done in the way of creating change in education.

The Connect Institute is one of SIT’s local partners in Morocco.