A right to learn

By Mounya El Asri

October 1, 2018

Morocco reading program ensures all students have access to quality education

Today, 11-year-old Ayoub is smiling, reading and playing games with his classmates, just like any child his age. However, this seemed out of reach for Ayoub just a few years ago.  In fact, the odds were against him.  Ayoub suffers from a condition called dyspraxia, a neurological disorder that makes it difficult to plan and process motor tasks.

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Ayoub in his new classroom. Photo by Mounya el Asri.

Around the world, children with disabilities are often denied the right to quality, inclusive, and equitable education. Of the 150 million children with disabilities globally, an estimated 90 percent are out of school, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF..

In Morocco, according to the 2014 National Survey on Disability, 66.1 percent of children and adolescents with disabilities are out of school because the education system lacks the resources to accommodate their needs. Out of the 1.4 million Moroccans with disabilities, only 19.6 percent complete primary education, 9.5 percent complete secondary education, and 1.8 percent reach a higher education level.

But Ayoub and his family were determined that his story would be different.

“We really suffered a lot from Ayoub’s condition, but we kept believing in him and we won’t give up. We all dream of a bright future for our boy,” says Ayoub’s grandfather.

And with support from the USAID Reading for Success-National Program for Reading, that dream is becoming a reality.

An uphill climb to education

Ayoub lives with his mother Fatima and his grandparents in the small town of Sbaa Ayoun between Fez and Meknes. His father left soon after Ayoub was born when the family learned of his disability.

When he was 7 years old, he enrolled in school, but could never make it to the next grade because of his condition. Determined for her son to get a quality education, his mother managed to enroll him in a private primary school, but Ayoub came home every day in tears after being bullied by classmates and ignored by his teacher.

Still committed to Ayoub’s future in spite of the obstacles, his family tried a special needs class. Ayoub still did not learn to read and struggled to get along with his teachers.

Finally, a school principal recognized a spark in the boy and knew he could learn and excel in the right environment. He recommended that Ayoub enroll in a National Program for Reading intervention class where his education could take off.

Open doors for learning and literacy

When then 10-year-old Ayoub started first grade at Al Mokhtar Soussi school, nearly 10 miles away from home, the adjustment wasn’t easy.

With no transportation, Ayoub must get to school on foot, which is a challenge given his condition. His grandmother walks with him, regardless of the weather, sometimes carrying him on her back to go faster and ensure he doesn’t fall and hurt himself on the road.

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In his new classroom, Ayoub is accessing quality education and learning to read and write. Photo by Mounya el Asri.

At his new school, Ayoub was quickly embraced by his teacher Hanane.

“He came to my classroom, and I could immediately see that he was scared, lost and hopeless”, said Hanane. “I decided to take on the challenge and committed myself to bringing the smile back to his young face.”

As Hanane tried to find the catalyst to ignite Ayoub’s interest in learning, she noticed her new student lit up during Storytime, a new pedagogical approach used under Morocco’s new Arabic reading curriculum. Hanane was trained in this new approach under the USAID-funded Reading for Success-National Program for Reading.

Implemented by Creative Associates International, the five-year program supports the Government of Morocco in developing a national literacy program to improve Arabic literacy skills in grades 1 through 4. It seeks to improve classroom instruction; expand remedial and extracurricular reading opportunities at school, at home and in the community; and to improve national learning and assessment systems for reading and writing.

Within two weeks of joining Hanane’s class and participating in the interactive reading program, Ayoub opened up, gained confidence, and finally started reading words.

By the sixth month, Ayoub was reading sentences and even participating in school activities such as theater, games, and reading activities.

“Now I can read, count from 1 to 20, and I have friends,” says Ayoub.

Ayoub finished the school year with very good grades in reading and a renewed sense of confidence. He spent the summer vacation practicing reading the grade 2 textbook Hanane gave him to help him get ready for the next school year.

Hanane has become not only a teacher, but also Ayoub’s mentor.

“Ayoub came to me one day and said: ‘Good morning teacher!’ with a wide smile and a big hug,” says Hanane. “When we asked him what he wanted to become in the future, he happily said: “A teacher, just like my teacher Hanane!”

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