Thirty students from eight schools gathered at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Research Complex over the weekend to take part in the YouthMobile Qatar competition, a global initiative launched by Unesco, to empower youth to develop mobile apps for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and implemented for the first time in Qatar.
The YouthMobile Qatar project is a joint initiative by Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), Arab Women in Computing Qatar and the Unesco Office for the GCC and Yemen. The students received a nine-week intensive training on mobile app programming, coding, innovation and entrepreneurship from computer scientists, teachers and coding experts, and were invited to present the mobile apps they created to a large audience and judges. The theme of the competition was ‘Helping My School’ and its objective is to empower students to find local solutions to the problems they face in schools through mobile technology.
Students from grades eight and seven were tasked with using App Inventor, an open-source web application developed by MIT Media Lab, to design and build mobile apps that could positively improve their school environment and educational experience. Aged 11 to 14 years, they developed mobile apps to help their peers complete their homework, report incidents and injuries in schools, organise class schedules, help students with disabilities communicate with others, collect and share class notes, and manage the distribution of meals in school cafeteria.
The participating schools included Edison International Academy, Al Bayan Preparatory School for Girls, Al Maha Academy for Girls, Lycee Voltaire, American School of Doha, International School of Choueifat, ACS International School and International School of London.
Thirteen judges from key education and tech institutions in Qatar, including the Education Development Institute, Ooredoo, Texas A&M University, Qatar National Research Fund and Arab Women in Computing, assessed the inventions of the 16 teams of students.
After students pitched their ideas and demonstrated the functionalities of their mobile apps to the judges, the winners of the competition were announced.
Mohamed Shikfa from Lycee Voltaire won the first prize for his app ‘My School Assistant’, which helps students organise their weekly class schedule and mutes their phone when they enter class. Sara al-Madeed from Al Maha Academy came second with her app ‘Brainstorm’, which enables anonymous messaging between students and teachers, including visually impaired students and teachers, to share and receive feedback.
Omar Abdallah and Rami Ayeche, from American School of Doha, won the third place as well as the Audience Choice Award with their app ‘Organize A+’, which reminds students about their homework and provides easy access to students’ notes using a secure cloud storage database.
Opening the competition, Anna Paolini, Unesco representative to the GCC and Yemen, expressed enthusiasm to see a large number of projects in Qatar dedicated to developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship through technology for young people in the country. She also thanked the students, mentors, parents and teachers for their commitment to the project.
Dr Eman Fituri, director of Educational Initiatives at QCRI, said: “Working closely with those young innovators over the past nine weeks has been a truly rewarding experience, and we look forward to scaling this excellent programme up in the future.”
Asmae Tabet, a member of Arab Women in Computing Qatar and one of the main mentors of the project, said delivering such skills sets these students apart from their peers because they can materialise their ideas, refine it and possibly launch it on a large scale, and bring another useful tool to the world. Dr Hamda al-Sulaiti, secretary-general of the Qatar National Commission to Unesco, emphasised the role young people can play in providing solutions to society’s challenges by using their mobiles phones in a constructive and positive way and contributing to the realisation of SDG 4, which focuses on providing inclusive and quality education to all.