Inspiring children with technology, one robot at a time

Mariam Haidar has always been passionate about education and technology, especially for girls. She grew up in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where schools’ lack of resources made it difficult for children – especially girls – to explore their creativity and become confident with digital technology.

Mariam dreamed of starting an organization to teach children about technology, but wasn’t sure how to begin. Since Mariam joined DOT Lebanon as a community leader in Bekaa in 2014, DOT Lebanon has put her on the path to social innovation. As she participated in DOT’s youth leadership program and worked with DOT digital champions in schools throughout the Bekaa Valley, Mariam learned important business and communication skills, and developed a plan to address the gap in technical education. She was also supported to access important networks and participated in the Arab Women Entrepreneurs Project, where she met inspiring mentors and learned more about running a social enterprise.

“I saw first-hand how children needed more exposure to science, technology, engineering, and maths,” says Mariam. “I also saw how, as a young woman with technology skills and business acumen, I could find a business solution to this problem — and create both a job and social impact I could be proud of.”

Mariam’s dream became a reality in January 2016, when she founded EDUTEK, a social enterprise that exposes children to STEM projects and provides basic coding, digital literacy, and problem-solving skills.

In a year, EDUTEK has reached more than 350 children and youth, including 120 girls. The social enterprise offers most of its programs in Bekaa Valley, and has also worked in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

“My goal is to ignite children’s desire to explore, solve problems, and learn,” Mariam says. “EDUTEK is particularly focused on encouraging girls see opportunities in technology. We believe in the leading role of women in the realm of technology and sciences.”

Recently, EDUTEK launched a robotics program with a community partner. Children create and operate robots like the Color Sorter, which uses sensors to distinguish between different colors, and the Cuber Robot, which uses color sensors to solve the famous Rubik’s cube.

Robotics is a hands-on way for children and youth to develop to learn about science, engineering, math, project management, problem-solving, and more.

Plus, the children love it. “For them, robotics is a passion,” says Mariam. “They find it fun, and it is an effective way of introducing programming to students.”

Mariam was selected as a TechWomen 2016 emerging leader, and attended a professional mentorship and exchange program in Silicon Valley. Visiting high-tech companies like Mozilla, Facebook and Yahoo! inspired and challenged Mariam in her role as EDUTEK’s leader.

Currently, she is a Technovation Challenge Regional Ambassador, helping girls aged 10-18 to solve social problems and develop leadership skills by creating mobile apps.

Mariam has already made an impact in the lives of hundreds of children in the Bekaa Valley, a vulnerable rural community in Lebanon, but she isn’t going to stop there. She continues to grow in both roles as DOT Lebanon’s Bekaa Area Manager and as a social entrepreneur and founder of EDUTEK.

“My dream is to transform EDUTEK into an academy where all children and youth have an opportunity to obtain the skills needed for 21st century jobs,” Mariam says. “I want to make sure no child is left behind, and everyone has the chance to learn, gain skills, and have fun.”

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