NAYA| Mariam Haidar: Bridging technological-educational gaps

Annahar recently caught up with Haidar in her modest-sized science, technology, education, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) Edutek training center and educational hub that she runs with her husband Tarek Hawasli. Spread all over the classroom, nimble students with bright minds sit quietly in front.
by Tala Hammour

24 January 2019 | 12:30

Source: by Annahar

  • by Tala Hammour
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 24 January 2019 | 12:30

Mariam Haidar with one of her students at the Edutek center. (Annahar)

BEIRUT: A tech genius, business owner, curriculum developer, compassionate teacher, and mother of two, Beqaa native Mariam Haidar has taken multi-tasking to a whole new level.

Amid all her many responsibilities, Haidar founded Edutek, a digital educational hub in her hometown in 2014. Since then, she has worked on related diverse projects that aim at integrating technology with education in Lebanon.

Edutek is an after-school, extracurricular program, for which parents pay small tuition.

“Becoming a teacher is the last thing I would ever have imagined myself doing,” she told Annahar. But Haidar is a natural when it comes to teaching. However, throughout her teaching career, she had one question haunting her: “How can I make education interactive?”

Annahar recently caught up with Haidar in her modest-sized science, technology, education, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) Edutek training center and educational hub that she runs with her husband Tarek Hawasli. Spread all over the classroom, nimble students with bright minds sit quietly in front of their laptops, eager to delve into this session’s robotics tutorial.

The robotics program, which is provided by Lego, consists of a digital Lego animation presented on the screen and connected by wires to a real-life Lego robot that children manually put together. Mariam imports many of her program ideas and curriculums from foreign sources but, always tailors them for relevance to a local context.

Students work to solve a problem, such as rescuing victims with a Lego-animated helicopter by using their motor skills and exercising their logical thinking.

“Kids really love her,” said Aida Rachiini, her teaching assistant. “She has a way with connecting and communicating with them.”

In the next classroom, Hawasli trains older students on advanced techniques, such as 3D printing and virtual reality animation.

“I’m over the moon about Mariam and Edutek,” said Nadia Sous, the mother of one of the students at the center. “It’s preparing my kids for this generation.”

Haidar is an AUST alumnus who earned a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Management Information Systems.

She was employed as an area manager at Digital Opportunity Trust Lebanon (DOT), which attempts to integrate information communication technologies with education and the economy. Her work with DOT instigated a desire to start her own business. Increasing pressures in her personal life pushed her to take a final decision to support herself and build an independent business.

In 2014, she participated in the Arab Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) organized by AMIDEAST. The program was a turning point in her career, as it required her to design a business proposal that ultimately led to the creation of Edutek.

In 2016, she was selected out of a pool of two thousand applicants to participate in TechWomen, a mentorship program hosted in Silicon Valley.

“The aim of Edutek was to integrate STEAM education and to prepare students for the 21st century,” she told Annahar. “I want kids to bridge the gap between education and the labor market.”

When she and Tarek decided on establishing Edutek, they were torn between locating it in Beqaa or Beirut. Although the latter would provide more opportunities, they were determined to diminish the technological skills gap between students in Beirut and the peripheries.

“The Lebanese education system is a stable one but, there is no relationship between knowledge and skill: we learn math and sciences, but we never learn how to apply those in real life,” she said explaining why Edutek offers hands-on activities for children.

Unlike video games, robotics train students to become producers of technology rather than passive consumers.

“The objective is not for them to become programmers, but to build their problem-solving skills,” she told Annahar.

Haidar also partners with Beqaa-based schools and NGOs to integrate TechEd within their curriculums. She volunteers with the NGO Sonbola where she teaches digital literacy to marginalized Syrian refugee communities, in an attempt to leverage their standing in the labor market.

Three months ago, she created a program called Al Mobtaker al Sagheer (the small inventor) that introduces children to money-management and entrepreneurship, while focusing on design thinking. “Our kids are afraid of their ideas, they don’t know how to brainstorm or bring their ideas into life,” she said.

Seven-year-old Taym came up with the idea of creating automatic white-board wipers, as he saw his teacher struggle with cleaning the board frequently. Taym and his other young classmates at Al Mobtaker are taught how to calculate start-up costs, designate a target audience, and create a business plan.

Kids are also taught social responsibility; they know that part of their potential business earnings must go to a social cause.

Although the technology field is perceived as male-dominated, Haidar said that so far, every one of her career managers has been women.

She is optimistic about the availability of scholarships, programs, and opportunities ready to support women in this particular field.

In terms of managing being a mother and a business-owner, Haidar says “sometimes the priority is for my business, sometimes the priority is for my girls, the balance depends on the situation.”

On a personal level, Haidar dedicates a-daily, two-hours of in-depth research to keep up with the digital world.

“Especially in the field of technology, you cannot stop. You have to keep being resilient and focused,” she told Annahar.

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