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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
25 October 2007

UNRWA-UNIFEM build LEGO Robotics Labs

UNRWA schools, Jordan, October 2007

LEGO launched its signature multi-coloured plastic building bricks back in 1949; the year the United Nations created the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Almost sixty years later, UNRWA is working with UNIFEM to develop five LEGO Robotics Labs in selected UNRWA schools in Jordan, emphasizing just how far these two very different organizations have progressed to meet with today’s expanding technologies.

UNRWA’s cooperation with UNIFEM dates back to 2001 when the two organizations launched the Gender Project which established the CISCO networking academy programme (CNAP). Recognizing the importance of promoting equality in all educational fields, the CNAP curriculum targets young women and has been established in 10 institutions in Jordan.

In July 2007 UNRWA and UNIFEM signed a Memorandum of Understanding dedicated to pursuing ‘E-quality in the ICT sector’, part of a larger programme by UNIFEM to encourage women to train in Information Technology. Nominated schools in Wihdat (Amman New camp), Nuzha, Irbid and Zarqa camps, as well as UNRWA’s vocational training centre in Wadi Seer, have been delivered ‘LEGO Kits’, funded by UNIFEM, which include all the resources for students to build and programme their own robots.

This is a small but significant step for UNRWA highlighting the organisation’s commitment to keeping educational standards in line with changing technologies and the subsequent demands placed on new graduates entering the workplace.

Ahmad Abu Najim, Head Teacher at Zarqa Preparatory Boys School No.1, is delighted that his school has been selected to participate in the "LEGO project" and says that the students are eager to start their new lessons. "This project will strengthen the capacity of the children to think, to create, to design, and allow them to discover their own potential", he says.

In August 2007, UNRWA teachers from the Jordan field were trained in LEGO construction systems and robot-programming software. They were also taught how to utilize the LEGO Robotics Lab in the schools which are now working to incorporate Robotics classes within their official curricula. Teaching is scheduled to begin this month.

The classes provide students with the chance to explore the latest technologies, but also to exercise their teambuilding skills as they co-operate and challenge other teams to design and create their own robots.

Robotics Labs have already proved successful as part of UNIFEM’s long-running E-village project in the Madaba region of Jordan, which according to UNIFEM ‘aims to bridge the digital divide between women and men living in rural and urban areas in Jordan’. The ‘village’, a technology centre serving the villages of Lib and Mleih, also includes a Microsoft IT academy, radio station and film club. It sees on average more than 400 students from these two villages attend the Robotics Lab each semester, 58 percent of whom are female.

UNRWA Head of IT Education in Jordan Dr Ayman Murad hopes that this success will continue at the UNRWA schools: ‘Students will be proud of their accomplishments. They will also gain understanding of, and interest in, possible future careers in engineering, programming and other technical fields’.

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