In today’s digital world, coding is increasingly becoming a fundamental skill. As part of The.Ismaili’s November theme of Science and Technology, and to recognise International Children’s Day today, we will learn about the children and youth of the UAE Jamat, who are engaging in a variety of stimulating technology-related programmes, from computer software to robotics.

“Where individuals have access to computers in their homes or, as will be the case in rural areas in developing countries for some time to come, in community centres, technology can provide the first real opportunity for lifelong education on a broad scale. One lesson is clear. The mastery of the use of the essential elements of communication and information technologies will have to be part of the experience of every university student sooner rather than later. The use of the technology should have a place in the educational process itself, and its mastery should be on the list of competencies that every graduate should possess.”
-Mawlana Hazar Imam, Centenary Celebration Meeting, Association of American Universities, Washington DC, 22 April 2001

Although computer programming has yet to find its way on to many school curriculums, coding skills are in huge demand and potential employers are looking for this ability across a variety of career paths.

With this fundamental shift of educational trends in mind, the Aga Khan Education Board in the UAE organised a series of courses on coding for students aged 13-18. The courses aim to introduce students to computer sciences and basic programming concepts using the Python 3.6 programming language. Classes were designed to build logical thinking skills and help students write programs to solve basic and advanced technical problems.

Led by Shaheen Khoja, a software engineer at the multinational company General Electric, 16 students attended the course over a two-month period. Shaheen spoke of the daily ubiquity of software programs in the form of mobile apps and online portals.

“I remember when I joined university, I had no prior knowledge of programming concepts. However, this is not the case right now; children from a very young age are learning to code and participate in online programming competitions. This was one of the objectives of the Python programming session, to expose young children to basic concepts in programming and have them apply this skill to solve a real-world challenge,” explained Shaheen.

In the beginners course, students were tasked with completing one of three projects: creating software for a travel agency, a currency exchange service, or a quiz show.

“I really enjoyed it and I definitely learned and acquired an ample amount of skills which I will further improve and work on. This experience has further increased my horizons and opened my eyes to an entirely new topic, as the world is now being enveloped with technology, understanding it is and will always be useful in the years ahead,” said Zain Sadruddin, a graduate of the beginners course.

Ayan Shariff, a student who completed the intermediate level course, said, “I thoroughly enjoyed the Python programming class: the logical coding concepts along with the fun projects plus the enthusiastic teachers created an amazing learning environment.”

The classes piqued students’ interest in computer sciences and laid the foundations for a positive hobby which could one day be turned into a fruitful career.

The Education Portfolio has committed to expose students to this key skill, and encourage them to move from being technology end-users to becoming technology developers. The students’ own motivation also clearly indicates their interest in the field. In turn, this has inspired Shaheen to develop a comprehensive curriculum which will allow the Education Board to run this course all year round.

On 2 June 2018, the first graduating intermediate class of computer programmers were awarded certificates on the successful completion of Programming with Python, at the Ismaili Centre Dubai.

In the spirit of exposing students to advanced technology, Ismaili youth from a range of schools and backgrounds also gathered at the Ismaili Centre Dubai in March 2018 to participate in i-Robotics, an event held to prepare participants to enter the First LEGO League — an international competition for elementary and middle school students which introduces a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on. Similar i-Robotics events are hosted by over 100 schools with over 1,000 participants around the world.

The aim was to program robots to score points on a themed playing field. Dividing into two teams, participants had eight weeks to prepare and develop an understanding of robotics. This in turn, helped the students apply real-word mathematics and scientific concepts, develop critical thinking, team building, and presentation skills, and practice gracious professionalism. Enthusiastic volunteers spent their weekends supervising the team, facilitating the games, and helping participants develop their skills.