A longer-term experience with online learning requires revisiting the quality and accessibility of tools for students and educators.
The Moroccan government, schools, and families should get ready for a different return to school this academic year, especially as COVID-19 cases are increasing. Online learning has been evolving at the expense of traditional learning, a fact on which the Moroccan ministry of education should take action.
Relying officially on streaming classes on television, as happened in March 2020, proved ineffective and failed to target all students. So, what are the reasons behind the failure of online learning in Morocco, and what should policymakers and educators do to facilitate online learning for all learners?
Three criteria are necessary for successful online learning
The new strategic vision for educational reform (2015-2030) the Moroccan Supreme Council for Education, Training, and Scientific Research developed encompasses incorporating online learning into an educational system, but not anytime soon (CSEFRS, 2014). One-third of the 15-year period allocated to this reform has elapsed without online learning set up in schools and universities in a manner that considers the impacts it has on knowledge construction at the learner’s appropriate pace.
Recently, online learning, computer-mediated learning, flipped classrooms, and mobile learning applications have become a new fashion of learning environments, key elements to success and advancement. They teach labor market-related skills — such as subject matter skills and information technology skills — using current teaching approaches and materials for increasing employability and competition for the best jobs. Traditional learning, however, fails to interest technophile learners and generally does not meet market skills’ requirements.
Students’ inability to afford education technology tools and materials — a worldwide issue — also factors into the problem. In Morocco, more than five and a half million students are unable to afford necessary equipment for learning online, given that only 600,000 out of 5.66 million benefited from the TelmidTICE platform, according to education minister Said Amzazi. They could not keep up with the rest of the class due to socioeconomic reasons when every Moroccan school resorted to online learning during COVID-19 quarantine.
Consequently, three related issues evolved. One concerns the lack of accessible digital learning materials, the second is the inability of families to afford bandwidth connectivity, and the third is linked to inappropriate or inexistent learning technology tools.
A lack of accessible digital learning materials
The decisions about school that the Moroccan Ministry of Education has been making during the COVID-19 quarantine far from meet students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and abilities. They incorporated some learning systems into MASSAR, “a new online school information management tool that supports the governance and transparency of schools” (SABER, 2015). MASSAR also “allows parents to monitor their children’s school life (class schedule, scores, and attendance) using a personal login and password.”
This is similar to Microsoft Teams, is a Learning Management System (LMS), but is void of any prior training on how to use it and fully benefit from the services it provides. Amzazi stated in a House of Councillors meeting that the Ministry of Education partnered with University Mohammed VI to launch a phone number for students, parents, and teachers to call and ask about how to use these online platforms, namely TelmidTICE and Microsoft Teams.
That is, neither students nor teachers have received any training on how to utilize these new technology tools in constructing learning and designing teaching materials and assessment tools.
Insufficient engagement in online learning
However, this method does not function offline. What is more, the TelmidTICE platform does not fit all students’ socioeconomic circumstances. They cannot afford to buy learning technology tools, such as tablets, PCs, or smartphones, while policymakers did not plan to provide them.
Those who already have the equipment could not constantly access bandwidth connectivity. Less than 10% of Moroccan students enrolled in school, or 600,000 out of 6,260,444, benefited from online platforms during the remote education program induced by COVID-19, according to Amzazi. This forced teachers to resort to technology tools such as Facebook and WhatsApp, with which students are familiar.
The learning platforms, though not all teachers and students are tech-savvy about them, are updated daily, semi-weekly, or weekly with informative, level-related teaching materials. Teachers started to place voice or video calls, producing summaries and sometimes creating simulations and videos and sharing with their students to keep up with the curriculum.
Taking into account students’ socioeconomic circumstances, the majority could not cope with learning loads offered by their instructors where, according to Chakroun, only 1 out of 35 students was engaged in Teams (personal communication [online meeting], May 28, 2020). Nfissi also points out that most of his students neither have technology tools, nor do they have access to the internet, and that is why they were not engaged in online learning (personal communications [online meeting], May 28, 2020). The rest restricted themselves to the materials provided through television.
Inappropriate education technology tools for the 21st century
The television approach to school, adopted by the Moroccan Ministry of Education to cover the rest of the curriculum during the COVID-19 crisis, seems inadequate in the 21st century, when technology tools and learning materials are available in a variety of forms. Television and radio cannot make interaction take place, and communication is central to the syllabus.
The television and radio approach is not always appropriate for students, especially considering that rainy and windy weather interrupts television broadcasting and 12% of Moroccan families do not own a television, according to a 2015 study by the High Commission for Planning (HCP).
This access gap resulted in unequal learning opportunities. The television approach may be useful as a supplementary tool for learning. Therefore, there is an emerging need to develop a framework that keeps up with learning objectives, using 21st-century technology tools and fitting students’ socioeconomic circumstances.
The need for a Community of Asynchronous Online Learning (CAOL) Framework
I suggest a framework of online education emphasizing asynchronous modes of learning, provided that students have ownership of tools supplied with learning materials that “show themselves” (Kraus, 2012). This is formulated in a learning application, or program, including all levels’ subject matter, from primary to high school, as well as related materials designed to satisfy the learning gap without needing an instructor. Materials are presented in various forms to meet students’ different learning styles and strategies.
CAOL is a less demanding online learning framework for both students and teachers. It suggests that learning takes place through a user-friendly mobile learning application—or PC program, interchangeably used. This application provides, for students, a complete description of concepts and components of level-related materials void of bandwidth connectivity requirements.
Students can also evaluate their performance to check on their understanding and reflect on their learning. Finally, it includes many features through which learners can contact peers, teachers, and education counselors. Interaction with education counselors requires occasional bandwidth connectivity.
This framework is developed to meet not only students’ needs but also those of teachers and education counselors. All these components of the school merge together in this framework to aid learning and help students bridge learning barriers, which presents a promising opportunity for Moroccan students and educators as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
On these bases, a Community of Asynchronous Online Learning framework would be established as an attempt to provide a satisfactory learning environment for all students, regardless of bandwidth connectivity. It could prove successful provided that policymakers manage to afford technology tools and educators afford unified digital learning materials for all levels, from primary to high school.