“In the past, I wasn’t interested in books,” admits Aicha Kefsaoui, a middle school student at Ibn Ajroum in Tiflet, Morocco. But that changed after Aicha’s teachers were trained in techniques to help students improve their reading comprehension.
Now a book lover, Aicha says “I ask myself how come I didn’t pay attention to reading before?”
This is exactly the turnaround the Moroccan government is seeking to achieve through the Reading for Academic Skills and Individual Development in Middle Schools (RASID) project.
RASID is an eight-month initiative funded primarily by Morocco’s Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The project is implemented by Creative Associates International.
RASID provides teachers and coaches with materials and methods to strengthen critical reading comprehension skills at the middle school level.
“This program addresses a serious problem in the middle school system: students’ low reading skills and low overall school achievement,” explains Abdelkader Ezzaki, Chief of Party for RASID.
While short in duration, RASID’s program staff reports the initiative has been “very successful.”
Low literacy rates underlined need for educational reform
Morocco’s educational system has struggled with low reading performance among middle school students, despite high enrollment numbers.
According to a national assessment, only 25 percent of eighth grade students were able to distinguish the main idea of a basic text and only 4 percent could summarize its content.
The issue is compounded when students with below-grade reading comprehension begin middle school and are overlooked by teachers who presume they have the reading skills expected of a seventh grader.
Those struggling students are more likely to be absent and dropout. Only 53 percent of students enrolled in middle school continue on to high school, reports USAID.
Aware of the challenges facing its schools, the Moroccan government initiated a series of education reforms to better meet the needs of middle school students.
One of those initiatives was the Improving Training for Quality Advancement in National Education (ITQANE) project, implemented between 2010 and 2014 by USAID and Creative.
During the ITQANE project, it became evident that student learning was impeded by weak reading skills. That realization led to the creation of a pilot program to test tools to improve student reading comprehension.
In collaboration with the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training, Creative developed reading kits for subject teachers, instructed master trainers and assessed student learning outcomes.
The ITQANE reading pilot was implemented in 35 schools over an eight-week period and resulted in improved student reading performance. Students also scored higher in other subjects such as math and science.
After seeing the success of the short-term pilot, the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training decided to institutionalize the program as part of the government’s continuing educational reform efforts.
ITQANE’s pilot reading program success laid the groundwork for the launch of the RASID project in April 2015.
Toward a culture of reading
“This program is developing a whole new educational pedagogical culture around reading,” says RASID project leader Abdelkader Ezzaki.
Indeed, RASID set ambitious objectives to achieve in its eight-month duration. The ultimate goal: to establish a system that will enable all middle school teachers in the country to improve reading instruction across subjects, including Arabic, French, math and science.
In collaboration with the Ministry, USAID and Creative strengthened existing training and coaching guides to help teachers integrate reading comprehension methods into their subject areas.
Together, they also developed a curriculum map to help teachers identify linkages between reading strategies introduced in RASID trainings and the existing middle school curriculum.
Using these training guides, RASID set out to train teachers from all regions of the country.
Through a series of training workshops, 220 teachers and 35 ministry master trainers were taught how to use the guides and curriculum map linkages.
“I believe I became a more skillful teacher,” one Arabic language teacher from Al Qods reported after receiving the training, noting that her students are more attentive in class and “are able to read within their subjects.”
At the end of the training, the teachers and ministry master trainers were themselves equipped to train an estimated 27,000 teachers during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years.
“It’s not an easy task at all,” admits a teacher at Ibn Ajroum. “However, we decided to give it a try.”
Turning the page
Morocco’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training has been a leader and a champion of the RASID project—from its inception to its realization. Ministry personnel were involved and engaged in the project’s design, workshops and trainings.
As the eight-month project winds to a close, there is cause for optimism that the low literacy rates in Morocco will gradually improve.
RASID has equipped teachers and coaches with tools that are already showing a difference in the classrooms.
Teachers in the pilot region of Rabat have already integrated the program’s content and strategies. At workshops, teachers have demonstrated how they are implementing program strategies and other creative ways to improve students’ reading skills.
Regional authorities have indicated their commitment to undertake the training of teachers and follow-up on the in-school and in-class implementation.
It seems that Moroccan schools are turning the page in favor of reading. That renewed focus is evident in schools where teachers have received the training.
“Teachers are organizing events to raise awareness about the importance of reading. Teachers and students are organizing exhibits inside the schools to raise reading awareness. They are organizing reading clubs, making greater use of the library, encouraging home reading and doing book reports,” says Ezzaki, RASID’s project director.
“The program,” he concludes, “is developing a new school culture in favor of reading.”