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January 20, 2017

How ‘Tawasol’ project leverages ICTs to expand STEM education in Tunisia

By Meher Bnouni

Tunisia may be geographically small, but it is historically big. Its 3,000 years of history have been filled with several milestones shaping the country into what it is today.

Now, Tunisia is working hard to accelerate the pace of its development. It has seen impressive progress, but there remains a wide gap between urban and rural areas in several fields such as education, infrastructure and services. And as technology rapidly evolves, the gap is widening and the consequences are becoming even more dramatic.

People in rural areas often don’t have access to the Internet or technology and are left in oblivion as the world develops drastically.

Many children living in rural areas only hear about the Internet and are thrilled at the sight of a computer or a smart phone. They are often confined to agriculture as it is the only thing they master.

Even cities, which are better equipped with the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), lack high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

Tawasol: A fresh approach to STEM education

That’s why a group of IEEE Student Branch leaders in Tunisia joined forces to tackle this issue with a fresh and young ‘out of the box’ approach. We began by analysing the problem and recognizing the needs before we formed IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology).

We started working on a project named “Tawasol” which means connectivity in Arabic. The project’s purpose is to create an Internet-empowered next generation throughout Tunisia.

In order to do that, we’re starting with schools and our work will then be scaled to reach the schools’ surrounding communities to increase awareness among families, businesses and local community leaders.

Our mission is to provide the physical means for people to connect to the Internet: computers, open hubs, Internet hotspots, wireless transceivers… etc. The initial project seeks to provide schools with small Raspberry Pi-operated devices that have hard disks that can be periodically updated with relevant educational content in the field of STEM education. Content would include scratch programming, robotics programming or TED talks, for example. At the same time, we will also be training the trainers and holding workshops for students.

A powerful vision

Our mission is not simply to connect the unconnected, but to strive to ensure proper and beneficial use of the Internet and make a profound change in the community that in the long run will be very remarkable. This is very meaningful work for us.

“My biggest pleasure in life is to put a smile on a child’s face, and thanks to IEEE SIGHT, I was able to achieve it with our project, Tawasol,” said Skander Mansouri, the Vice President of IEEE SIGHT, Tunisia. “SIGHT gives us the opportunity to change millions of lives.”

Indeed, we strongly believe that our initiative is the next tipping point in the country’s history. Once the culture of the Internet reaches the very core of our society, tax collection will be Internet-based, women in underserved communities will be able to sell their artisanal products online, and many services will become accessible remotely to everyone.

We’re currently in the process of connecting two schools and benchmarking. Our work has been getting international reach by our participation in initiatives and events such as the United States’ Global Connect Initiative and the Internet Governance Forum 2016 in Mexico.

Meher Bnouni
Meher Bnouni is an industrial electronics engineering student at the National Engineering School of Sousse. Meher is currently the Secretary General of IEEE SIGHT Tunisia and the former Chair of the IEEE ENISo Student Branch. He’s also the CEO of an IT startup.
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How 'Tawasol' project leverages ICTs to expand STEM education in Tunisia

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