“When COVID-19 hit Morocco and the schools closed, we quickly shifted to distance learning with the main goal of providing continued learning for our students”, said Mr. Boukili, the inclusive education official at Morocco’s Ministry of Education. “We soon realized we were only focusing on the tip of the iceberg!”
In March 2020, Morocco’s Ministry of National Education, Vocational Training and Scientific Research (MOE) shifted to digital learning to ensure continuity of learning for its seven million students in response to the coronavirus outbreak. A variety of distance learning resources were made available for the students. The Ministry quickly multiplied its efforts to make distance learning accessible to all. The Ministry expanded its online TilmideTICE platform which provides content across all subjects and levels, rolled out a Microsoft Teams platform to enable student-teacher online interaction, and launched virtual classrooms to benefit vocational training center students. Then, to reach students with no access to the internet, often in rural or underserved regions, the Ministry went a step further and started filming lessons and broadcasting them on national TV channels to ensure equitable access to all.
To all? Not quite. As these distance learning tools were rolled out, concerns were soon raised that deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students, representing over 2,000 schooled children and youth who count among the 10,000 Moroccan students with sensory impairments, were being left behind.
There remained yet another challenge: the need to translate distance learning materials into Moroccan Sign Language (MSL).
The Ministry was well prepared to rise to the challenge thanks to the USAID project Improving Deaf Children’s Reading through Technology activity (2015 - 2018) which, in partnership with the MOE, has increased recognition of MSL as a language by providing training to teachers and administrators on MSL. The project worked with deaf association-run schools across Morocco to provide teachers with an assistive technology—MSL Clip and Create software—allowing them to both create customized materials that provide MSL translations of written text and generate instructional activities incorporating both MSL and Modern Standard Arabic.
Ms. Mina Daoudi, a sign language interpreter, was one of the teacher volunteers that the MOE called upon to help with the translation of lessons in MSL through a series of recorded videos. “These video lessons will be first broadcast on national TV channels and then posted on the Ministry’s online platform so that deaf and hard of hearing students can access digital learning opportunities,” Ms. Daoudi said. “You know,” she continued, “there are many educational materials for deaf children online, but in addition to being scattered here and there, they are not Morocco context-appropriate. This is the time we should consider providing our own offerings!”
Driven by the immediate need and response to the pandemic, the MOE reached out to USAID for support. As part of COVID-19 emergency response measures, USAID redirected approximately $400,000 under its current National Program for Reading (2017-2022) to adapt digital lessons into sign language for DHH students.
This effort is part of a continuing collaboration with the MOE to support DHH education. The need for MSL teacher-preparation programs and the important role of higher education in preparing the next generation of deaf education teachers resulted in the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2019 between USAID, the MOE, and Lalla Asmaa Foundation. This MOU outlines the implementation of a comprehensive and evidence-based teacher training program that will equip existing and prospective teachers with the skills to use quality instructional models for teaching DHH learners. Following this MOU, USAID will roll out a new DHH teacher training activity later this year, which will help the MOE enhance inclusivity in Morocco’s education system by providing technical assistance for content development and training of a generation of future teachers who will fill a critical teacher shortage in this field.
“This shortage in trained teachers for deaf and hard of hearing students has been all the more acute with the COVID-19 pandemic as we are trying to provide online interpretation services for our deaf and hard of hearing students”, said Mr. Boukili. “But this MOU will significantly contribute to raising the profile of sign language teachers in Morocco and hopefully will encourage more and more undergraduate students to specialize in deaf education and fill the MSL teacher shortage gap,” he continued. “It is a huge step towards achieving Morocco’s inclusive education reform agenda for the long term and a strong commitment to contributing to an inclusive and sustainable economic growth of the country.”