A start-up in Jordan helps schoolchildren master coding in a gamified way

The Hello World Kids start-up in Amman, Jordan, has created its own programming language to boost children’s learning capacity. (Supplied photo)
Updated 07 June 2019
0

A start-up in Jordan helps schoolchildren master coding in a gamified way

  • More than 100 schools teach SmoothY, which is tailored for children's learning capacity
  • Even for students who will not grow up to work in IT, coding skills have many benefits

DUBAI: A start-up in Jordan has created its own programming language tailored for children’s learning capacity. Using Hello World Kids’ SmoothY, pupils master coding in a fun, gamified way by unlocking levels and solving problems to earn points and awards.

Such skills will be vital in tomorrow’s jobs market, with consultants McKinsey & Company warning that automation and artificial intelligence (AI) could eliminate up to 800 million jobs worldwide by 2030. Conversely, there is a dire shortage of trained programmers, with as many as one million coding jobs going unfilled in the US alone.

Even for children who don’t end up working in information technology (IT), learning code has myriad other benefits.

“Coding teaches children problem-solving, analytical skills, computational thinking and critical thinking skills,” said Hanan Khader, a mother of four who founded Hello World Kids in Amman. “We don’t teach coding as an isolated skill, but as a skill to solve real-world problems.”

An estimated 82 public schools and 50 private schools in Jordan now teach her company’s coding program, and 35,000 pupils have completed its courses. Jordan’s education ministry has agreed to incorporate the courses into the school core curriculum, and these will be introduced to all elementary schools over the next five years.

Students learn via HelloCode, an interactive online platform that uses storytelling, cartoons, songs and games to teach SmoothY, which uses simplified programming syntax and conventions.

It is easy to understand and yet uses the same logic and precepts of common programming languages, preparing children to later code in the likes of Python and Java. Through SmoothY, children can make their own applications and computer games. Those aged 5-7 first complete HelloCode Juniors, a three-part course that makes them computer literate, followed by HelloCode Fundamentals, designed for students aged 8-12.

“After completing Fundamentals, children will be ready to learn whatever trending technologies there are worldwide — they know the concepts and semantics of programming languages; they understand how to build technology, so are now free to do whatever they want,” Khader said.

Khader, who is a computer programmer, first had the idea for her company in 2013 when her 10-year-old daughter complained about how boring information and communications technology (ICT) lessons were. “When I explained to her the concept of a variable, she loved it and wanted to learn more so she could write code,” she said.

That prompted her to start simplifying coding concepts for children to understand. She then developed this into a coding course that could be integrated into the school timetable. “There were a lot of challenges in trying to disrupt a long-established system. First, I had to prove that there really was a simplified way to teach coding to kids,” Khader said.

She said she taught herself about educational practices and how to build a curriculum prior to approaching schools. Her main aim was to demonstrate that coding was different to teaching ICT.

“ICT teaches you how to use a program. I wanted to teach how to create a program,” Khader said.

In 2014, she held more than 700 meetings with schools and parent groups to explain the benefits of teaching school children how to code. Only one school invited her to stage a pilot course.

“Once the principal said yes, so 350 kids learned coding,” Khader said. Khader launched her start-up as a not-for-profit company. “I wanted to create social impact but with a profitable strategy,” she said.

“I gradually built awareness by creating case studies showing the impact of our courses and publicizing these through social media. There was skepticism as to whether schoolchildren were capable of learning coding.”

Today, the venture employs 15 full-time staff and offers its courses, available in English and Arabic, worldwide.

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


World-famous Italian opera house debuts in Kingdom

Updated 16 June 2019
0

World-famous Italian opera house debuts in Kingdom

  • Organized by the Saudi Culture Ministry, “An Italian Opera Journey” took place at the King Fahad Cultural Center
  • Only registration was required to attend the free event, which sold out almost instantly

RIYADH: Residents in Riyadh were treated on Friday to some of the best that Italian opera had to offer, with a performance by the symphony orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala Academy, which made its debut in Saudi Arabia.
One of the most famous opera houses in the world, dating back almost 250 years, the academy offers world-class training in all disciplines of symphony, opera and ballet, under the supervision of famous musicians.
Organized by the Saudi Culture Ministry, “An Italian Opera Journey” took place at the King Fahad Cultural Center.
Only registration was required to attend the free event, which sold out almost instantly, with 3,000 music lovers, artists and poets enjoying an hour of beautiful tributes to classical music.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The show opened with a surprise performance of the Kingdom’s national anthem by Saudi opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation for her rendition.

• Al-Bahiti was invited by the Saudi Culture Ministry to perform at the event as part of its efforts to showcase national talents.

The show opened with a surprise performance of the Kingdom’s national anthem by Saudi opera singer Sawsan Al-Bahiti, who received a standing ovation for her rendition.
Al-Bahiti was invited by the ministry to perform at the event as part of its efforts to showcase national talents.
The orchestra was conducted by maestro Pietro Mianetti, and featured performances by soprano Francisca Manzo and tenor Ricardo Della Sciucca.

NUMBER

3,000 music lovers, artists and poets enjoyed an hour of beautiful tributes to classical music in RIyadh.

Some of the most iconic pieces from 19th-century Italian opera were performed. At the end of the show, a standing ovation led to an encore.
Deputy Culture Minister Hamed Fayez took to Twitter to express how much he enjoyed the evening.
“A beautiful night spent with the esteemed La Scala opera at the King Fahad Cultural Center in Riyadh, amidst a wonderful crowd, with an exceptional performance from our Italian guests,” he tweeted, posting photos.
The performance is one of the ministry’s efforts to attract high-quality artistic events that enrich the Saudi cultural landscape and enhance quality of life.
The Kingdom’s first opera house will be built in Jeddah, and is scheduled for completion in 2022. The institution aims to become the new home of a Saudi residence orchestra.
The Kingdom has also seen the opening of a music institute by famed Egyptian violinist Mahmoud Sorour, with a second music institute in the works.