Ahmed Idrissi is the eighth of nine children and lives with his siblings in one of Casablanca’s poorest neighborhoods. His parents moved to a different city several years ago to make a better living for their family.
Idrissi had little use for school.
“Going to school was burdensome for me,” he says. “In fact, I rarely attended class more than two hours a day. The rest of the time I spent with my friends or at home.”
When he failed his first year of high school, he decided to switch schools.
“My decision was in part motivated by my desire to distance myself from the group of friends I had at the time, with whom I got into a lot of trouble,” he says.
A friend told him about P-TECH Ibn Ghazala in Casablanca, Morocco, the first P-TECH school in a non-English speaking country and the first in Africa.
The school opened in September 2017 with 61 students, nearly doubling in its second year.
At a P-TECH school, students earn their high school diploma while also working toward a two-year associate degree in an IT field, such as cybersecurity, mobile application development, or Web development. (The first P-TECH school opened in New York City in 2011, a collaboration involving IBM.)
Ahmed felt that P-TECH would be a good fit for him. But when he went to enroll, registration was closed. He wasn’t deterred. Over the next two weeks, he showed up at the school regularly, urging the administration to accept him.
“The headmaster of Ahmed’s previous high school advised me against accepting him at our school,” says Hicham Barfete, the principal. “For him, Ahmed was a hopeless case, having already failed two years.”
But in the face of Idrissi’s determination, the principal and educational staff finally agreed to accept him. They felt that with the right support and guidance, Idrissi could succeed.
At 19, Idrissi is one of the older students at P-TECH Ibn Ghazala. He is also one of its best students.
“Ahmed is one of my most serious and studious students” says Ihssan Belhabes, the science teacher. “If you were to meet him today, you’d have a hard time believing that he once was a struggling student. Nothing in him says that; not his behavior and definitely not his grades.”
For Idrissi, the fit couldn’t be better. “My teachers at P-TECH are like my second family and school is like my second home. Only two years ago, if someone had told me that one day I would have such a good support system at school or such a great relationship with my teachers, I would never have believed them.”
Idrissi owes much of his change in attitude to the many “soft,” or professional skills, he gained from workshops at P-TECH. Not only did he adopt a positive attitude toward learning, he also developed communication and leadership skills.
There’s also mentoring as part of every P-TECH program. IBM professionals offer students guidance and advice about academics and careers.
“My mentor talked to me a lot about his job at IBM,” says Idrissi. “His enthusiasm when he talks about his role and his journey to becoming an IT engineer has encouraged me to pursue my studies in this field as well.”
Idrissi’s dream is to become an IT engineer. He hopes to become the most successful among his siblings. But above all, he wants to make his parents proud.