MIT students volunteer with Fikra 3al Mashi

This month, four students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are volunteering their time as teachers with Fikra 3al Mashi, the award-winning community outreach initiative established by King’s Academy students.   

Rami Rustom ’16 is one of Fikra 3al Mashi’s three founders and currently a freshman at MIT where he continues to support the initiative from afar. With the aim of developing a sustainable partnership for Fikra 3al Mashi, Rustom coordinated with the university’s pioneering educational program MISTI, to offer students teaching opportunities in Jordan through King’s and Fikra 3al Mashi.  

MIT students Kristina Schmidt, Megan Fu, Kendrick Manymules and Louis Cammarata heard about Fikra 3al Mashi through MISTI and traveled to Jordan to spend a month teaching Syrian refugees and disadvantaged Jordanian youth living in urban areas.

“We applied to the Jordan program because we feel that it’s a misunderstood part of the world,” said Schmidt, a senior at MIT studying mechanical engineering and pursuing a minor in political science. “We wanted to meet and talk to people, not just depend on things we read in the news.” 

The MIT students are working together with Sari Samakie ’17 – another Fikra 3al Mashi founder – and Sara Awad ’17 on the initiative’s latest course that is taking place in Madaba. The aim of the program is to introduce 25 male and female students, who range in age between 15 and 21 and live in and around the Madaba area, to critical thinking, by focusing on developing different learning skills rather than following a specific curriculum.

The idea for Fikra came about after researching the education needs of refugees. Fikra’s founders saw that those residing in refugee camps were fairly well served in terms of traditional education, but noticed that the education of urban refugees was suffering, partly because they tend to move around a lot. In order to meet this problem head on, Fikra came up with the idea of enabling students to develop skills to learn by themselves.

“What really interested me in Fikra is the method they rely on to teach students,” said Cammarata, a graduate student studying statistics and policy. “Fikra had us watch Sugata Mitra’s Ted Talk about creating self-organized learning environments, which they are trying to implement with the kids.”

Self-organized learning is based on research that groups of children, no matter what their situation, with access to the internet, can learn almost anything by themselves.

“We don’t want to do what is being done at schools. We want students to teach themselves,” said Samakie. “They are researching problems within their communities, and providing solutions. At the start of the program they weren’t thinking about their future, but by the end they see that they have a lot of potential. They feel empowered.”

During the course, in addition to learning basic English language, IT and entrepreneurial skills, the students will also practice research methods, discussion and public speaking. They will be introduced to learning skills such as basic programming and scientific methods of testing out hypotheses.

Rustom believes that as MIT is a research institution, the volunteer teachers can bring a lot of perspective to this method of learning, and are given the freedom to create their own curriculum.  

“We are having some really fantastic discussions,” said Schmidt. “We’re not teaching them subjects like math; it’s more about critical thinking and looking at the world around them and dissecting people’s motives, biases and agendas.”

Fu, a sophomore studying computer science and neuroscience, explained: “They are going to develop very specific research questions, and spend a couple of weeks finding evidence online from reputable sources and learn what makes a reputable source. From that they build a project that they can present to the group.”

“The students are really enjoying it,” added Schmidt. “They said they never thought about things like that, so they were excited we were having these discussions and thinking critically.”

Fikra 3al Mashi is proving to have an impact, not only on the youth it reaches, but also on its teachers.

Manymules, who is studying environmental engineering and anthropology said: “The teaching methodology is based on the belief that children are inherently curious, so by fostering that curiosity I’m fostering my own sense of curiosity.”