As in most of the Arab world, the Libyan government shut schools to combat the coronavirus COVID-19, and teachers, parents, and students are scrambling not to lose the rest of the school year.
Very few schools in the Arab world were focussed on online education pre-COVID-19, but in Libya, entrepreneurs Aziza Al-Hassi, Tufaha Suhaim and Amine Kashroud began taking the first steps in 2018.
That year, with the support of the European Union, UNDP and Tatweer Research launched the Tatweer Entrepreneurship Development Centre (TEC) to promote Libyan entrepreneurship. Programmes include business incubators, joint workspaces, business and technology training, and startup funding.
Improving children's education
Because of it Aziza Al-Hassi, Tufahah Suhaim and Amine Kashroud created, “School Connect,” which aimed at connecting teachers and parents to follow up on the children’s education.
With funds from the European Union, UNDP and Tatweer Research awarded the team a grant to empower women in conflict-affected regions to create sustainable businesses. With this support, “School Connect” became “Panda” and has registered nearly 10,000 students and parents of 30 schools.
“We were attracted to the idea of building a small company that could create job opportunities in this harsh environment," said Aziza.
The team was aware of the challenges that students, parents and teachers were facing with educational in Libya, they realized that communication was key. In many cases, information regarding a student’s behavioural and academic performance was not reaching their parents, so Panda created a bridge. And they’ve come up with other ways that schools can cut down on unnecessary costs and tasks.
The shared vision and goals of Panda’s founders were the main impetus towards its establishment in the Libyan market. “This was a very new business concept and we were not totally sure that the school administrations and parents would endorse this method, we were concerned that they might resist Panda’s advanced technological solutions,” Aziza said.
Headmaster Mustafa Belhassan was one of the first supporters of Panda. After several meetings with the team he decided to start officially integrating the programme at his school. “I was impressed by the idea from the beginning and was surprised to find young people possessing such capabilities with practical technical solutions to the problems of education,” he says.
"Mr Mustafa is a passionate person who loves developing technologies,” Aziza says. “Despite the complicated circumstances, he runs an excellent and very well-organized institution, but he was suffering from the difficulty of transferring information effectively. Traditional methods simply could not keep up with the amount of information that had to be sent, which meant parents lacked the whole picture of their children’s progress.”
Because Panda is a new concept in Libya, the founders launched an awareness campaigns on the importance of communication between parents of students and schools, and the tremendous role that technology can play. Their efforts however met great challenges because people in Libya are unaccustomed to online platforms other than the typical social media, such as Facebook and Instagram and they were afraid the new system would be too complicated. To meet their needs Panda team started holding seminars in schools to familiarize parents with their service.
Adapting to COVID-19
As the COVID-19 epidemic spread in Libya, several educational institutions switched to online teaching and the Panda team had to work intensively to adapt.
"We had to take a new step to automate our service so it can become suitable for transferring the academic content,” Aziza said. “We started organizing the process of sending educational content to the schools we work with, in order to reach students at home. We also opened the door for any student; they can download the content even when the school is not register with Panda."
The Panda team has expanded considerably since it began, creating job opportunities for young women and men. They have organized 40 workshops and provided 65 training sessions to schools.
They are committed to maintain their goal of reaching 60 schools this year.
A technology curriculum
"We do not stop here,” says Amine. “We've created a mini curriculum that focuses on technology and we are giving it to all schools involved with Panda. Each school puts forward a team to participate in our trainings and compete against each other”.
The founders of the Panda continue to provide students with a greater number of lessons to avoid the interruption of their learning process. “Our company hopes, in the long run, to become a standard for educational technology in the country and the region," said Tufaha.
TEC has inspired many young men and women to establish their own businesses, adopt technology and keep pace with global developments, with the overall objective of raising the private sector in Libya, especially in the light of the new challenges presented by a global pandemic.
“The role of the TEC Incubator team in providing support and guidance was crucial for Panda to adjust to the challenges of COVID-19 in the field of education, and we continue counting on its support to achieve all our business goals,” said Amine.