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Siroun Shamigian: The Challenge of Bringing Digital Arabic Content to the Classroom

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Kamkalima is a web-based platform for K-12 schools that helps teachers create engaging writing based assignments in Arabic. The software allows students to collaboratively write and publish at the school level. It also serves as an online archive for the school, including all student and teacher work, an invaluable compilation of learning resources.

The Kamkalima platform is developed in line with best practices of education technology used in schools. As such, the platform architecture includes three different levels of accounts, where a school focal point can  set up and manage all teacher and student accounts ensuring security,  anonymity and privacy. The idea for a platform like Kamkalima started with a dire need for Arabic-friendly technology tools that help teachers integrate 21st century skills into their classrooms.

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I started teaching when I was 18, initially to help myself pay my way through a college education. But I was instantly in love with the profession, and the fulfillment I felt. During my 23-year teaching career, I held many positions within the school ranging from a classroom teacher, to subject coordinator, in addition to other administrative positions: but being in the classroom was the most satisfying.

Over the past 10 years, with the technology revolution underway, there have been vast changes in classroom dynamics. “Just delivering content” is no longer enough. Students nowadays can find any piece of information they need in ways that are faster and more efficient than any teacher can provide. What is needed in education is a total change of mindset, one that focuses not on teaching content, but rather on building the skills needed for students to succeed in a world where change is constant and learning never stops.

 Technology is undeniably an essential medium to enable this type of teaching and learning. That is not to say that technology will replace teachers. However, “teachers who use technology will probably replace those who don’t”. And this has been a challenge for many. Many teachers are part of a generation of “digital immigrants”- whose familiarity with technology is often times not as developed as their “digital native” students.

 Many schools have realized this and have begun taking necessary measures to adapt and change with the changing world. The school where I taught was one of those schools, and I was assigned to lead a team whose job was to develop teachers’ skills in order to serve our students better. I was the Education Technology Integration Coordinator of the school. As part of my job, I provided support to teachers to properly integrate technology in their teaching and learning. It was a job that I loved, as much as I loved being in the classroom, but after a few years, I was failing at one aspect of my job: I was not able to help teachers of Arabic! With the lack of digital Arabic content, and total void in Arabic EdTech, there was not much I could do! So to fill a much needed void, along with a few of my colleagues, we decided to take the matters into our hands, and Kamkalima was born.

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 The journey we embarked on to turn an idea into a reality has been challenging. Three years ago, I was a teacher who had no clue what entrepreneurship meant. I also did not neatly fit into any of the available ‘boxes’ for a typical entrepreneur. These were challenges I had to learn how to conquer. It was an opportunity to put on a new thinking hat, practice my problem solving skills, and build a team of like-minded individuals who shared my vision. To survive through the challenges, finding the right support within communities like Berytech and the UK Lebanon Tech Hub has been invaluable in making the journey easier, and more pleasant! This month, I just returned from a global program for successful woman entrepreneurs.

 Nominated by Berytech I, along with Elsa Aoun, co-founder of ounousa.com from Lebanon, were interviewed and selected from a national pool of candidates to represent woman entrepreneurs in Lebanon at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program. The program, a partnership between the US Department of State, Goldman Sachs, and the Harvard Kennedy School brings together approximately 30 women entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa to the U.S. for a two-week program focused on entrepreneurship, leadership training, mentoring, and networking. Not only was it a great learning opportunity, but it also brought validation. I realized how much we have accomplished so far.

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 The program has been a major turning point for me as a person, as a team leader and as an entrepreneur. It offered me opportunities that I would have never had on my own. Most importantly, being in the company of amazing women from almost every single Arab country, and learning from them. This goes beyond what any networking event, workshop or training can provide. It is living with 25 other women like you for two weeks, and learning from their experiences, achievements and failures. Another major benefit of the program for which I will be eternally grateful, is the week-long formal leadership education we had at the Harvard Kennedy School. This education opportunity allowed me to evaluate where we are as a company, and put a strategy for our team to move forward with more force to meet our goals.

 Siroun Shamigian

Co-founder of Kamkalima