This article originally appeared in ITUNews.
Lebanese Alternative Learning recently won an Equals in Tech Award for its Tabshoura in a Box platform , which works independently of the Internet and electricity, and provides a hotspot where students can connect computers and access digital learning resources.
ITU News recently caught up with Dr Nayla Fahed, the Founder and CEO of Lebanese Alternative Learning.
She explains what Tabshoura in a Box is all about in the Q&A below.
1. What gave you the idea to start Tabshoura in a Box?
The main project of the Lebanese Alternative Learning NGO is Tabshoura, a digital platform that provides support to fill learning gaps and avoid school dropouts.
We mainly partner with NGOs that cater for children in remote areas. Internet connectivity and power cuts were the main issues. The internet was too slow and as a result children could not use the content we made available on the internet.
This is how our digital team came up with the Box idea. The Box is a pocket-size server, based on the raspberry Pi technology and filled with Tabshoura content in Arabic, English and French. It can be connected to a power bank and has up to 10 hours of power autonomy.
2. What are some of the challenges you have been trying to address?
In order to reach our goals, we had to resolve a number of constraints.
First, we had to convince families to give their girls access to the internet, especially the families who thought that computers exposed their girls to bad boys. So we had informal meetings with the families around food to discuss digital access and let them try the platform.
Second, we needed to convince the schools and teachers to change their habits by introducing ICT in learning. To resolve this, we worked with the school as a partner, and gave it visibility in our project. We recruited some of the best teachers to be our champions.
Third, as we initially faced difficulties in locating low-cost tablets and devices, we partnered with an NGO that provides refurbished devices or low-cost tablets.
Fourth, since many students had considerable learning and language gaps, we started by giving them basic knowledge on mathematics, and sciences, and then created digital resources to develop Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) projects. We also had the chance to work with Dr. El Masri, an Oxford fellow, on research about designing tasks and asking questions and she provided some very useful recommendations to meet the language challenge.
3. How are you bringing innovative approaches to bridging the digital gender divide?
During our fields visits we noticed that although the rate of secondary girls in school is higher than the rate for boys, girls are not given the same educational opportunities with the same perspectives. Girls have hairdressing and sewing workshops while boys do technology. One day, we were checking the equipment of a computer lab and one girl, Lama, came to us and told us she wanted to be a computer engineer but that she was not allowed to participate in the computer sessions because they are only for boys.
This gave us the idea to do the Girls Can Count project — to reinforce STEAM skills for girls, fight against stereotypes and traditions and help them realize their dreams. When we do our training sessions we explain that we can help them only if they help us too. STEAM skills will increase those girls’ access to this job market and allow them to get technology related jobs.
4. Can you explain why access for women in technology is important?
Technology is not a luxury in today’s world. It is a must. We use technology in our day-to-day life. We use technology for our work. We use technology for our leisure. There is no gender equality possible if women cannot access technology.
5. How does it feel to win an EQUALS in Tech Award for your work?
We were very proud and excited to qualify for the award as we are a small NGO with big ambitions. To receive the EQUALS in Tech Award is certainly a recognition that small projects can accomplish beautiful things and that collaboration is a strength. The award also confirms that there is always something you can do.
Dr Nayla Fahed is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Lebanese Alternative Learning.