x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Students bring social media to rural Kenya

They will teach 40 secondary schoolgirls to use the internet to further their education.

DUBAI // Three Emirati students are about to set off on an ambitious project - to take social media to the schoolchildren of rural Kenya.

Arwa al Mazrooie, 20, Khadija al Abbas, 20, and Fatima al Sayegh, 21, all students at Zayed University in Dubai, will set off on Sunday for Kajiado, a town of 8,000 people near the Tanzanian border. There, they will teach 40 secondary schoolgirls to use the internet to further their education.

"Social media is the next frontier in education," Fatima said. "Traditional education can only achieve so much, whilst web 2.0 provides a different perspective into education by tapping into the world's psyche."

And while Kenya might seem an unlikely place to spread the message, she insisted online learning was not only cheap, it was available anywhere, allowing students to use the internet's wealth of e-books, videos, tutorials and utilities to pursue their education outside the school's walls.

The school they are going to is run by Dubai's Al Maktoum Foundation, and offers free classes for schoolgirls.

In preparation, they have set up a website that they will use as a starting point for their pupils. It is called Al Bedaya, or "the start".

"We called it Al Bedaya because it's a beginning for us, for the university and for the schoolgirls - for them to comprehend the magnitude of the information at their fingertips," Fatima said.

"We're using our own experiences to relate to the students," she said. "It was ingrained in our heads, 'Do not underestimate these girls'. We hated it when it was done to us, especially in our high schools."

Arwa believes they will teach the Kenyan students what they themselves could have learned at school if given a chance.

Social media, she said, has opened them to different perspectives. "Before we'd read a newspaper or listen to the radio. Now, we can shape our own lives and make up our own minds."

As well as the Al Maktoum Foundation, the project has been sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Oilfield Service and Malabar Gold company. "We were quite surprised when the [Al Maktoum] foundation said, 'Sure, you're on board,'" said Fatima.

hhamid@thenational.ae