Zaatari Youth Progress to Arab Robotic Championship

Zaatari’s recently opened Innovation Lab is leading the way in giving refugee youth access to new technologies

Competition underway on the day of the 15th edition of National Robotics Competition held in Amman.

When you think of a refugee camp, teenagers making robots may not be the first thing that springs to mind but in Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan, the recently opened Innovation Lab is leading the way in teaching youth future technologies.

Led by refugees themselves who have been trained by the Jubilee Center for Excellence in Education, over the last three months 35 refugees, aged 12to 16, have had the opportunity to learn robotics.

Mohammad, for example, one of the many young and aspiring technicians in the camp, is particularly excited about the impact that participating in the robotics class could have.

“I want to be an agricultural engineer in the future to make farming more efficient and convenient for the elderly by using the robotics technology that I have learnt.”

A robotics class in Zaatari camp Community Center’s E-Learning Hub. Here, Mohammad (in the middle) was learning how to instruct a robot to move in certain paths © UNHCRJordan

In addition to the basic classes, the promise of participating in the Jordanian National Robotics Competition was a strong motivator for the students and after Zaatari’s first Robotic Championship took place on November 9, 2019, three teams of young refugees progressed to the 15th edition of National Robotics Competition in Amman.

Contending with 39 teams from all over Jordan, the Zaatari robotics succeeded with one team being awarded with an inspiration award and another, participating under the name BTS Robot, placing fifth and subsequently being chosen to compete in the Arab Robots Championship to be held in Egypt in March 2020.

“Through this competition, I have learnt that we are together one spirit. To have this experience about robotics is definitely something new for us. Hopefully, we will be able to gain more advanced training in the future and win,’ said Limar from the BTS Robot team while reflecting on her experience in the national competition.

Competition gets underway on the day of the 15th edition of National Robotics Competition held in Amman. © UNHCRJordan

Created from Lego Mindstorms robotics kits, the competition requires participating teams to design and program robots to collect and place ping pong balls in specific areas. Through UNHCR’s Innovation Lab in the camp run in coordination with Blumont, students have been taught the necessary skills of sumo and line tracing robotics, with more planned for 2020.

With the unprecedented scale, speed and system impact of innovative technological breakthroughs, it is essential that all, including refugees, are able to access technologies which are expected to change the world. But this upcoming revolution brings both opportunities and challenges. Educational reform and development, for example, is strongly needed in order to prepare future generations for global shifts in the employment landscape. Through the acquisition and application of their knowledge, teaching robotics for children at a young age helps foster computational thinking and analytical reasoning as well as interpersonal skills through problem-based learning.

Inside a 3D-printing class, a child refugee was learning how to design and print a ring shaped in the word ‘Syria’ © UNHCRJordan

This is where the Innovation Lab comes in. Teaching classes such as coding, Arduino robotics and 3D printing, these courses are intended to equip children, adults and entrepreneurs with 21st century skills in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). As Rama, one of the refugees who participated in the national competition stated:

“I feel like I am one of the lucky ones amongst the Syrian refugees to be able to have this interesting experience with robotics. Because Syria’s future is in our hands, I’ll hope to apply every piece of knowledge I am learning now in the future.”

The journey towards innovative learning in Zaatari camp has just begun.