I asked my colleague to repeat what she had just said to me over the phone.
So she did: the state secretary of the Ministry of Education had requested an urgent meeting with me and the leadership team of Heritage International School on Saturday morning.
She wanted to discuss our distance-learning plan, which had been running successfully for the past couple of weeks.
Oh, and the minister of education, Mr Popovici, would be coming too
A unique opportunity
Heritage International School is the first truly international school in Moldova, based on the IPC and Cambridge International curricula, and has a different approach towards education than the state system in Moldova, still slowly moving away from the legacy in the post-Soviet period.
Our campus is three years old and doesn’t look like or operate like most schools in Eastern Europe.
As such, my team and I realised the importance of the moment – here was an opportunity for us to engage with our national education community to develop a common strategy for all children in Moldova, state or privately educated, share expertise and ideas and build a collaboration that could benefit us all.
Time for tea
When the day arrived, though, there was, of course, that awkward moment when you suddenly realise you have the government in your meeting room.
So as we sat with minister Popivici and state secretary Giru, the only way I could think to break the initial awkwardness was to offer to make tea for everyone – with the local press watching on.
We were honoured to welcome Education Minister, Mr Popovici, to an emergency meeting at Heritage to share with all of Moldova’s schools our Distance Learning model as we work together as a national education community to find solutions to ensure students continue to be educated pic.twitter.com/hfK74x7YeK— Heritage International School-Moldova, Europe (@HIS_Moldova) March 15, 2020
But minister Popivici immediately smiled and saw that Heritage was genuine in its full support and recognised what we could do here for the national education community.
From here we were off and my colleagues soon took over – discussing our distance-learning plan, how we operated our daily schedule of synchronous lessons, and the training we had undertaken.
We also went through some of the issues schools would have without such a digital platform in place and how offline and asynchronous learning would work.
Doing nothing is not an option
Ultimately, we made it clear – over many cups of tea – that doing nothing for the country was not an option.
Minister Popivici even quoted me on his Facebook page when I repeated this in an interview with Radio Free Europe.
Lockdown would last for months, so students needed routines, learning, support and, above all, hope. In a country like Moldova, our people are our assets and our young people are our future assets who don’t always want to stay here.
The ministry showed admirable leadership as it moved quickly with a new order to establish distance online learning in the country based on our online safety policy and training.
My colleagues made training videos and held webinars, still juggling their teaching loads, to train tens of thousands of teachers.
Moldovan educators are some of the keenest proponents of CPD and we have strong collaborative networks here, such as ETwinning, where teachers are already skilled in online learning.
Orange offered free internet for teachers and Unicef and the United Nations Development Programme supported our colleagues in the state sector with IT hardware.
We joined the ministry taskforce and supported schools and colleagues in all sorts of ways across our national education community to find solutions for children in the crisis.
“We have an imperative duty to ensure we, as educators, provide certainty to our young people, in uncertain times”. The conclusion of our meeting here with ?? Education Minister as our national education community works together @RFERL @tes @BBCWorld pic.twitter.com/ua2NeyghnF— Heritage International School-Moldova, Europe (@HIS_Moldova) March 15, 2020
Collaboration done right
Over the next few months, along with my colleagues Tatiana Popa and Inga Chiosa, we spoke weekly at global online education conferences sharing the story of Heritage and our national education community’s response to the lockdown.
Flying the flag for Moldova and our education was a proud moment for all and we have seen a paradigm shift as we prepare for the new academic year with cases still rising.
The ministry worked with all schools over the summer and allowed seven options for school leaders and communities to decide how they planned their response for the “next normal”.
We are all facing the new academic year with apprehension and uncertainty, but, as a national education community, we have shown what we can achieve when we put aside differences, labels and even history and collaborate around hope for the one central thing that unites us all – our young people and their futures.
Rob Ford is director of Heritage International School in Chisinau, Moldova