How MENACatalyst’s flagship digital literacy program MENACodes is empowering a new generation of digital innovators across the Middle East and North Africa

28, Oct 2021
How MENACatalyst’s flagship digital literacy program MENACodes is empowering a new generation of digital innovators across the Middle East and North Africa

Coding has become one of the most in-demand and marketable skills around the world. Virtually every industry has embraced the tech revolution and is adopting digital solutions to keep up with global development. Introducing and equipping students with the power to code, will effectively lead to improved STEM-based outcomes in schools and increased career opportunities for the future of the MENA region’s youth.  


MENA’s Youth Challenges and Opportunities

According to UNICEF, youth and young adults up to the age of 24 make up approximately half of the population across the region. The same report explains how the time is now for the region’s youth to reach their full potential and become catalysts of innovation, development and beacons of inspiration for generations yet to come. Although, UNICEF also finds that in order to achieve these results investments and cross-sector collaborative approach needs to be made to improve learning opportunities and foster more inclusive and diverse communities where young people from all walks of life can grow, learn, and develop and ultimately achieve their maximum potential. This is especially relevant when it comes to STEM education which allows young learners to develop the skills in science, technology, engineering, math and even computing, needed now more than ever to understand and address the ever-evolving challenges in a local, regional, and even global context.


Coding Initiatives Transforming the Face of MENA Learning

To meet the growing academic and professional needs of MENA’s growing youth population, digital literacy and coding programs are emerging to provide the technical training and skills this generation needs to become today’s leading innovators. For example, in Morocco, for-profit 3W Academy provides students with a 4-month bootcamp program specialized in full-stack web development; in Lebanon nonprofit SE Factory delivers a 3-month bootcamp in Software development, soft skills and critical thinking, For-profit Coded in Kuwait has a special junior program which that teaches young students with the latest coding languages such as Block Coding, Python, and JavaScript among others. In the United Arab Emirates, for-profit STEM for Kids provides a comprehensive computer programming curriculum for young students to fully immerse themselves in the latest technologies and learn what it takes to become skilled coders. On the other hand, UNICEF’s Office of Innovation is all about creating partnerships with “tech companies, startups, governments and academia to address the biggest challenges facing children.” While not targeting children directly they are working with a number of enterprises and initiatives that are working to empower children with platforms of support and access to skills development to “engage young people in change.”


While Sweden based non-profit MENACatalyst’s regional program MENACodes has taken a different approach that integrates digital literacy, coding, entrepreneurship, incubation and mentorship, and soft-skills training into its core curriculum. Strategically combining these elements helps young students acquire essential programming skills while learning how to think like an entrepreneur. Students also receive virtual mentorship from globally based entrepreneurs to receive guidance and support while developing their personal project ideas that address some of the most pressing challenges their respective communities face.


While this list is not exhaustive, it illustrates that many organizations across the region understand the importance of instilling amongst young people of all ages a sense of awareness and the skills needed to pursue long-lasting careers within the realm of digital technologies.


Value of Cross-regional Coding Bootcamps

Bringing students from around the region to learn and work together is an added value as they can reach beyond their borders to learn more about the world around them, gain multicultural insight, and begin to see themselves as a larger regional and even global community. As a virtual platform, MENACodes actively brings students and trainers from around the region together which allows young people from more marginalized communities to access invaluable learning opportunities from the ease of their home.


Value of Cross-sector support

Public – private sector engagement is also key as it puts the pressure on policy makers to normalize digital learning initiatives and make them readily available in public schools servicing some of the most marginalized and at-risk youth on a local or regional context. When policy makers get involved and curriculums become updated to include the latest in STEM education the quality of teachers will also begin to change, as they will have to become more qualified to deliver the required material which will in effect lead to systemic change for the benefit of young students. Parents also play a part as they can begin to understand the importance of STEM, provide their children with moral support and encouragement, and enroll them in supplementary programing classes when possible.


MENACodes and the Future of Digital Literacy in the Region

MENACatalyst is dedicated to transforming the digital drought plaguing the MENA region by cultivating a new generation of youth empowered with the skills and networks of support needed to become the socially conscious innovators this region so desperately needs.


To address these concerns, MENACatalyst launched its flagship digital literacy MENACodes in Palestine in 2019. As one of only a handful of digital learning programs in the country, MENACodes found vast success encompassing over 700 enterprising young minds from across both the West Bank and Gaza. The program partnered with leading global organizations ushering in a new era of digital literacy such as Germany based GIZ, South Africa based CodeJika and UK based CodeClub to ensure that participating youth had access to world-class curriculums and a network of peers. Supplementary digital literacy courses led by a local instructor included a 24-hour introduction to Python course which brought together an additional 60 students from across Palestine. 


Since then, MENACodes has grown far beyond the borders of Palestine and has attracted marginalized youth from across the region. This was made evident during the organization’s 24-hour virtual python course launched July 16 2021, which welcomed 25 participants from Syria, Iraq, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, in addition to securing a skilled trainer based in Syria. In addition, Hackathons are regularly organized to allow coding students to put their skills to the test and work in teams to come up with innovative and most importantly functioning digital solutions that address an array of relevant issues affecting thousands across the region, such as energy efficiency, education, health and well-being, sustainable resource utilization, activism, community outreach, and so much more.  


What sets MENACodes apart is its focus on creating an integrated learning experience for the region’s youth. Integrated in the sense that students are not only coming away from the program with improved digital literacy skills but are participating in a fully immersive incubator which guides them through the process of translating their developing coding skills into socially-conscious entrepreneurial digital projects. As such participants not only acquire newfound digital literacy – coding skills but are equipped with the skills needed to succeed in a professional setting and learn what it takes to become an entrepreneur in today’s fast paced digital world.

Through MENACodes, MENACatalyst has ambitiously stepped up to ensure that no child is left behind when it comes to learning the unequivocally most in-demand language of today, coding. In many of schools across the developing world, which makes it important now more than ever that global efforts are consolidated to ensure that students across the region have access to the tools, networks of support and opportunities needed to become leading innovators in today’s digital landscape of development.