In light of increasing cases of COVID-19, the Moroccan Government announced on March 13, 2020 that classes of all schools (early childhood schools, primary schools, secondary schools, inclusive schools, and private schools) would be suspended until further notice.
In response, Teach For Morocco (TFM) launched a virtual teaching plan for early childhood education under the theme “Stay Safe and Keep Learning” to ensure that the nearly 1000 early childhood learners in the TFM school community would continue their schooling during the pandemic. As the first step, the TFM team organized several virtual meetings with fellows, parents, school leaders, and the Teach For All global network partners in order to tackle the challenges of implementing quality online education, particularly among more marginalized students in rural areas. In these areas, just 28% of children aged 4-5 are enrolled in preschool (compared to 43% nationally). Over the course of these first meetings, participants worked with TFM staff to define the problems, brainstorm solutions, and suggest plans.
TFM cares about the health and well-being of our entire community and we, therefore, took a holistic approach to building our response strategy, including engaging local officials and parents in the work. We prepared 10-week plans so that we could have a clear support plan in place until the end of the school year.
Even before COVID-19, our teachers built strong relationships with parents. TFM teachers maintained daily in-person contact with parents and prepared files on each student containing information on their circumstances, their family compositions, living standard conditions, their parents’ literacy level, etc.
During the pandemic, TFM has relied heavily on WhatsApp to teach and communicate with students and parents. The biggest challenge came post-school closures. Since Morocco, especially in the more rural areas, is a very conservative society, it was hard to convince all parents to join a WhatsApp group for learning. Many parents didn’t understand the value of the technology and how learning could continue through this mechanism. It also wasn’t acceptable culturally to engage with the mothers via WhatsApp.
Using the information we had gathered in our students’ files helped our teachers to identify the influential mothers and leaders in the community and we were able to elicit their help in convincing the other mothers to join our WhatsApp groups. Using WhatsApp also allowed us to coordinate with illiterate parents by using voice memos.
Additionally, TFM launched a Web-TV e-learning platform on our website as a new way to reach parents and allow them to view video lessons developed by our fellows without having to download heavy video files on their smartphones. Furthermore, TFM launched an SMS platform that enabled parents and students to follow up on lessons via SMS and work without the internet. Through this mechanism, we have also been able to reach students beyond our immediate community, as there has been a high demand for support.
As an organization, we have managed to keep our partners and donors informed about our COVID-19 response by organizing several virtual meetings and sharing TFM’s communication updates. One outcome of this crisis has also been that our fellows have become community leaders. Many examples were given of fellows who made videos where they gave information, increased awareness on COVID-19, and shared messages via WhatsApp and Facebook groups on how to wash hands and how to exercise and play sports from home.
The TFM mentoring and evaluation team have also found that social emotional learning during this pandemic has been crucial. To accommodate this need, we have provided support and coaching to our fellows so that they can teach the characteristics of resilience, collaboration, empathy, and creativity to learners. We have also found that this situation has been an opportunity to teach parents how to engage in taking turns in speaking with their children, to record conversations, and send them to TFM’s fellows to get their feedback.
Another unintended outcome of this crisis has been increased collaboration and mutual appreciation between parents and teachers. Before the pandemic, parents only knew teachers by name, and interacted with them just five minutes a day at school pick-up and drop-off. Now, parents, in particular, have a much stronger appreciation for their children’s teachers and tell them what’s going on in their lives, ask them questions, and reach out to them for advice on other personal issues.
One thing that became clearer to us is that during this period the work that we are doing is tremendous. It requires all of us to work together. What we are doing is more important now than before.