ANEER On The Power Of Communities In Early Childhood And Preschools
ANEER program is based on an innovative model of community pre-schooling whose purpose is to impact the entire environment of children from school implementation to parental education. We caught up with Rita El Kadiri, Former Executive Director of ANEER at the 2020 HundrED Innovation Summit to find out more about the innovation.
Introduce yourself and your innovation.
"I am Rita El Kadiri and I am the (Former) Chief Executive Director of Zakoura Foundation. It is an NGO in Morocco and we mostly promote education in rural areas to empower local populations and communities. Our innovation is ANEER. 'Aneer' means 'light' in Arabic and the idea is to enlighten communities. We do that through community-preschool projects - the idea behind it to enrich the environment of the child by working with their parents, their communities and their environment as a whole. Education is a key component and to promote Early Childhood Education, people need to understand the importance of it. So, our role is to work with children but most importantly, work with their parents - mothers, fathers, - and all the people who are part of their communities."
What are the benefits of a community preschool in the Morrocan context?
"Community-based preschool or I would say community-based programs and education projects, in general, are extremely important in Morocco and let me explain why. Morocco, first of all, is a high contact culture - so everything revolves around families, and communities. We all belong to a community. So, it is very important that when you approach a community, you don't only work with one part of the community that are the children. You work with the whole community to make them understand the purpose of what you would be doing with them. They are part of the project. They are actually the masters of the project. You are only there to bring in some expertise, the ways, the know-how, but you are not there to stay. But the parents & communities are going to be there. So, empowering them and building their capacities is extremely important. From our experience, since Zakoura has been working for more than 20 years in rural Morocco, if you don't empower locals, the projects don't sustain. So working with families is a very important way to sustain the work that we do and to make each member of the community be part of the change. It is very important that they understand everything that we are doing, especially why early childhood education is important for children."
How do you define impact within your work?
"Impact is the most important part of what we look for. When you are talking about community pre-schools, you are wondering what the impact could be. As easy as it is, the first impact that we look at is how and when the child enters primary school. It is important because in Morocco there is a possibility that a child enters school too late and that is one of the reasons why children fail because they can't actually catch up and sometimes their learning capacities have changed. What we try to do is to make sure children are prepared to enter primary school and are in the best conditions to succeed in primary school and stay the longest. The good thing about ANEER and something we are proud of is that 100% of our children go to primary schools on time.
The second impact that we are looking at is how the children live the first three years of their schooling. As you may know, our project was launched in 2015 and so far, our children have reached grade 5 in primary schools. A recent impact study has shown 100% of our children are still in primary schools."
Can you share a success story from ANEER?
"I remember this little girl from El Jadida, one of our schools in that region. Her name is Rita. It is interesting because we carry the same first name, but I remember her mostly because her father was working outside of their village and she only lived with her mother. it was interesting how this young girl, Rita, went through our preschool program and her mother went through our literacy classes and then did our parental programs. We also worked with the mother on a vocational training track - which led her to become economically and financially autonomous. The most important part is that this new literate mother was now able to get implicated in her daughter's education, understand and be there for her every day, and be capable of helping her."
What does a day look like at ANEER?
"Children come into school every day, on time, having fun with each other, playing with each other, and learning with each other. An educator that is quality trained offers the best opportunities for children to unlock their self-potential. That teacher goes through the daily program with the children, which is about 3-4 hours per group. Usually, we have two groups within the same class because sometimes in some villages, we have a higher number of children and so we need that. Children stay within their classroom for three hours and they play and learn by going through the play-based program that we offer. The children can also greet the children and their families. When it is time to leave, then again, the teacher can have a chat with the mothers and make sure they stay well-informed of everything that is going on in the classroom. That same day, probably, the teacher has literacy class to offer to the mothers or a parental education session or maybe, a work session with a nearby public school. It is a very rich, dynamic experience on a daily basis but they are mostly around children and their families exploring how they can stay connected every day with their child's advancement and evolution."
How has ANEER approached scaling and reaching more children?
"As a matter of fact, ANEER is a great program and though it may sound complicated with all its components, but when you really look at it, it is something that is quite easy. We believe that everyone today who is interested or has the same needs can get inspired by ANEER. We started off small thinking that we could reach out to and create about 30 schools per year. And then we suddenly moved to 350 preschools a year. Next year, we are moving to 800. The capacity of the program to scale is amazing because the need is there and the families really need us. They have been so welcoming of the whole ANEER program. The children are happy to go to school every day and get ready for what is next for them, which is primary & secondary schools. We are there to prepare them as much as possible to what is expected of them. We have been having conversations with some people who are interested in our program through our UNICEF partnership and we hope such strategic partners are able to give us that scalability boost. UNICEF is carrying the word about our parental education program and how we could take it overseas and how we could carry it all over. We are also happy to share any of our content if people are interested."
How can the HundrED community help support your work?
"We are extremely happy to be part of the HundrED Community. It is a very human-sized community and we are very thankful for that because we can connect with all the people, hear and learn from them and share our experience and what we have developed so far. Of course, as for any other organization in the world, the challenge in part about how we can scale our idea and scaling needs funding and strategic partners. It is therefore important that we all work together to see how we can help each other in those two important ways - how to improve our impact and reach, and how to reach out to the maximum people. For that you need funding, you need expertise and you need support organisations like HundrED to be connected to people. I think the HundrED platform is already planning for all that. We are happy to see some amazing launches like the Funders Collection as we as the HundrED Connect this year. I think everything is prepared for us to get the utmost from this community.
If you are interested in supporting ANEER's work, check out their innovation page and reach out to our HundrED Connect team at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore possibilities of collaboration.