An Interview with HE Nicolas Sehnaoui, former Minister of Telecommunications
1. Tell us about the Coder-maker program you launched in Lebanese public schools. The program is a joint initiative launched by the Mouna Bustros Foundation (FMB) and the International Association for Education (IAE) to provide 10 public schools with 10 Raspberry Pi’s and additional tools, as well as the necessary training for using them. The purpose is to help school students become makers and coders.
2. Why did you launch the program? Why is it important? This is a pilot project that aims at showcasing the tremendous potential of our youth. This program started in 2012 at the Dhour el Choueir public school, where an entire class was equipped with the aforementioned tools. The teams proved to be very ingenious with their final products and ideas: one of these teams offered the municipality a system to manage the town’s traffic lights. I expect the new team to surprise us even more. It will send a great signal to the digital eco-system that says “digital starts in schools, there lies a huge potential.”
3. What is the government’s role and responsibility with regards to Coder-maker education? I think the government should introduce coding classes in schools. The sooner the better. It is the only way we can keep up with the rest of the world. Let’s not forget that we are in competition with the whole world. Our digital sector has huge key success factors like creativity, languages, entrepreneurship, and the Central Bank (BDL) initiatives, but other digital hubs are rapidly advancing. Today’s job market is in need of programmers. Even in the US 71% of all new jobs in STEM are in computing, and only 8% of graduates are in computer science. Plus, computer science graduates receive in average 40% higher salaries.
4. Many believe that technology will enlarge the gap in quality between public and private education. Do you agree? How can public schools keep up, what do they need? What we need is a national strategy. Today both public and private schools are lagging behind. Lebanese authorities at the highest level should recognize that the digital sector is one of the main pillars that can sustain growth and reverse the country’s “brain drain”. A few measures such as bolstering internet speed and introducing coding classes in public schools can make a huge difference. Let’s hope we can see such measures adopted and implemented soon. In the meantime NGOS and private initiatives will continue trying their best to fill the gap on the micro level.