IT competition works to improve Lebanon, one click at a time

File - A child plays with an exhibited tablet computer in a shopping center in Berlin, Germany, 03 December 2013. (Photo by: Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

BEIRUT: When older generations ask what’s wrong with kids these days, fingers often point squarely at technology. Cyber-bullying, obsessive-compulsive behavior, distractions from schoolwork and poor manners: Technology has been accused of causing these social ills and more. But according to Fatima Wehbe Sabbah, computers and phones aren’t the problem. The problem is the way that kids use them. As director of IBDAA ICT Center, Sabbah is organizing Lebanon’s upcoming, third annual IBDAA National IT Competition, which offers scholarships and gifts to student participants of all grades who demonstrate that they can use technology for positive purposes.

“Chatting is good and Facebook is good, but it’s not good to spend hours daily on it,” Sabbah says. “We want kids to stop chatting and using Facebook for more or less stupid things.”

For Sabbah, more “stupid things” include harassing other kids, procrastinating and broadcasting too much personal information. Less stupid things, on the other hand, include learning more about topics that matter and sharing that learning in constructive ways. What Sabbah calls “good usage of IT” is grounded in values such as loyalty, kindness, love of country and etiquette.

“What we really care about in this competition is telling people all around Lebanon that we can have great value within computer education, and our great challenge is to integrate values within computer education,” Sabbah says. “The questions that students work on highlight values, and they do this by using computers. They’ve talked about love of country, security and accepting others.”

Sabbah believes that integrating values within education is particularly important in Lebanon. As their country faces deep political divides, Lebanese children need to learn how to work toward the common goal of improving the country, and how to use technology to do so, she argues.

“We have a problem here in Lebanon where we don’t trust each other. We are expressing hatred of each other, killing each other,” Sabbah says. “This is a very controversial country. People don’t know how to accept each other. We have to integrate different values or we will be living in a very catastrophic situation. We especially have to work with teenagers.”

Nineteen-year-old Adam al-Hajj is one teen that educators have successfully worked with; he won the first competition, which was held in the Nabatieh area in 2011-2012. He says the competition taught him to practice hard and to do his best, and that other students can benefit in the same way.

“There’s a lot that Lebanese kids could learn,” he says.

To attract students like Hajj, the national competition offers gifts and both full and partial scholarships for students.

Though the exact dates of this year’s competition haven’t been announced, Sabbah says that it should begin in the next month or so, and will be divided into three stages.

In the first stage, students will go online and answer theoretical and applied practice questions. In the second stage, students will complete an online theoretical exam. In the final stage, the highest-scoring students will write another small theoretical exam and complete an applied IT project.

During the course of the competition, students will prove that they can use Paint, PowerPoint, Movie Maker, and other programs to support values that are important to them. But in working with IBDAA ICT Center, students will also have the chance to learn about online security so that they can protect themselves from bullying and privacy breaches.

“On Facebook, you need to keep your privacy to yourself and family. We teach students what to click,” Sabbah says. “And when you are faced with a cyber-bullying situation, you have to tell someone and you have to speak up. You can’t keep it to yourself.”

Whatever students learn about technology during the competition, organizers hope that they will put it to good use – not only for themselves, but also for others.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2014, on page 2.




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