While many countries, the U.S. in particular, already attach a great deal of importance to including programming in educational curricula, globally there is still a long way to go towards developing an outstanding generation of programmers capable of meeting today’s needs.
Where do countries in the Arab region stand?
Wael Hassan, a software engineer graduate from Aswan University and an entrepreneur, responded to this question by beginning, in 2011, to build the first graphical user interface software for children and beginners called Abtaker (‘I innovate’ in English) to teach programming fundamentals that can be done without writing text code.
Hassan has also designed a professional Arabic programming language called ebda3 (‘creativity’ in English), which Abtaker depends on in creating GUI programs and games. Abtaker converts programs and games designed by users into code written in ebda3, and finally executes them through an interpreter.
Hassan believes that students of computer science in the region need a programming language to make it easier for them to design their own GUI games. “Programming languages help students develop analytical, logical, and creative thinking skills. How nice it would be to have this made available to our children in their native Arabic. We need to map out paths towards a generation of scientists and innovators and provide them with the required tools,” says Hassan.
Last year, he qualified for the final round of the reality TV show Stars of Science, and won a research grant from Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). Also, a few days ago, he launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Arab-region focused crowdfunding site Zoomaal, hoping to raise $27,000 USD for his program.
Through this campaign, Hassan hopes to build his startup Almas, which means ‘diamonds’ in English. “My company is, up to this point, nothing more than just ink on paper. I have, however, my sights set on initiating its official procedures as a free software Arab company. All software products will be completely ready within a maximum of a year and a half,” he says.
If his crowdfunding campaign is successful, he intends to use the sum in several areas, including equipping the company and hiring programmers to conduct necessary programs testing. He will also allocate an amount for an e-marketing campaign; he admits that he was not able to pay enough attention to digital marketing in the previous phase due to the financial troubles. The crowdfunding campaign has been slow to take off, however, prompting Hassan to also begin looking for an adventurous investor to support him in executing his plans and bringing his project to light.
Hassan is also planning to build a social network called Oshad, which will be a digital community for programmers. As he intends to make Abtaker and ebda3 available for free, he aims for his profit to come from a monthly subscription fee.
His idea to launch a teachable programming language for children and novices was inspired by existing global models such as Green Foot, Scratch, Game Maker and Alice, all examples of game and animation design software. While some of these, like Scratch, support the Arabic alphabet, Hassan believes that his coding language is superior as it was developed by an Arabic speaker for the Arabic audience.