x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Free Ivy League education for all - now in Arabic

Taghreedat's 1,000 translators, writers and editors in the UAE have begun translating into Arabic free online courses from universities like Stanford and Duke.

The co-founders of Taghreedat, Sami Mustafa Al Mubarak, right, and Mina Nagy, have organised thousands of volunteers for the translation initiative. “Anyone can participate in the project,” Mr Al Mubarak says. Christopher Pike / The National
The co-founders of Taghreedat, Sami Mustafa Al Mubarak, right, and Mina Nagy, have organised thousands of volunteers for the translation initiative. “Anyone can participate in the project,” Mr Al Mubarak says. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // Courses from the world’s top universities, including Stanford and Duke, will soon be available free in Arabic thanks to an initiative involving hundreds of UAE volunteers.

Coursera, an online education company launched in the US last year by two Stanford professors, offers courses in English from dozens of leading institutions.

Now it has teamed up with the volunteer translation initiative Taghreedat, which will produce Arabic versions of some of the courses.

Taghreedat’s 1,000 translators, writers and editors in the UAE – along with 8,000 more in dozens of countries – began work on the project today.

Taghreedat was founded in Qatar by Sami Mustafa Al Mubarak and Mina Nagy and first came to prominence when it worked with Twitter to create an Arabic version of the micro-blogging website.

It has since taken part in a string of Arabisation projects, most recently the cross-platform messaging app, WhatsApp.

The two founders have moved to Abu Dhabi and work at the twofour54 media zone, but devote much of their free time to Taghreedat.

“Coursera gets the courses from the universities and offers them on its platform, but they are only in English and we are partnering with them to translate them into Arabic,” said Mr Al Mubarak.

“Anyone can participate in the translation project.”

The first two programmes to be translated will be a Stanford maths course and a course covering sociology and psychology from Duke.

Both should be completed by September, with several more expected to follow by the end of the year.

“In the Arab world you have two types of high school education, scientific or literature-based,” Mr Nagy said. “Psychology and sociology and all of those kinds of subjects come under the literature track. We wanted not to alienate the crowd who would not be able to translate mathematics or chemistry, so we have included a course for them.”

Much of the educational material provided by Coursera consists of videos of lectures and the translators will supply Arabic subtitles for these.

A three-tier quality control process is designed to ensure that even the most complex technical language is translated accurately.

“A large number of people in the Arab world have studied abroad,” Mr Mubarak said. “We think that alumni of Yale or Princeton who took these courses before will be driven to translate them and share them with their community.”

The link-up with Taghreedat is part of a global initiative Coursera has just announced. It is working with nine other organisations around the world to produce versions of its courses in languages including Russian, Portuguese, Turkish and Japanese.

“The potential to affect global education is greatly elevated by our ability to bridge language barriers,” said the co-founder of Coursera, Daphne Koller.

Andrew Ng, the other co-founder, said: “By offering courses in more languages, we hope to provide quality educational opportunities to more of the students who need it most.”

Coursera’s 70 partner universities include Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Edinburgh, Tokyo and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

More than three million people have signed up to study, and students taking some of the courses assess each others’ work.

The Arabic initiative has been welcomed by internet giant Google. “Taghreedat is working hard to making sure the web is relevant to Arabic speaking users through educational content,” said Mohamad Mourad, the Google regional manager for the Arabian Gulf.

“Taghreedat has been instrumental in bringing many forms of Arabic content online, from educational courses and online dictionaries of Arabic terms, to training volunteers how to translate content on the web.

“We are inspired by their work and passion for building an Arabic web one volunteer at a time.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the translation project can apply to do so at bit.ly/arabicedu

csimpson@thenational.ae