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How is science building Iraq’s former glory, and the minds of young Saudis?

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The Middle East and North Africa’s contribution to global science and engineering publications was only about two percent in 2013 according to a Harvard funded study.

This hasn’t always been the case. Since the seventh century and for millennia, countries of the Arab world experienced a golden age of scientific discovery, which saw world pioneering medical and cultural advancements.

In more recent times, regional conflict has played its part and eroded the intellectual community of some regional countries.

A life lesson Ahmed Alrayyis learned as a student in Iraq.

“My teacher did not believe in the theory of evolution because they believed that this theory was made by the West to affect us and make us forget about our religion,” he explains to Inspire Middle Easts’ Salim Essaid.

This is a viewpoint Alrayyis, an engineer and geologist, wholeheartedly disagrees with.

His belief is that science education is the key to creating an open-minded society.

Unlocking minds

In 2011 he created I Believe in Science, an online platform with more than three million followers and 15,000 scientific articles translated to Arabic.

He also joined Bayt Al-Hikma 2.0, a social media initiative reaching regional people of all ages and with the goal of enriching Arabic content online.

It is named after the original eighth century Bayt Al-Hikma, an institution of scholarly discourse and invention - defining Alrayyis’ goals for the online version.

“We want to create more and more researchers, and more teenagers, and people interested in science,” he says with optimism, with the hope of returning the house of wisdom to its former glory.

Street science

Bayt Al Hikma 2.0 delivers hardware to people offline

Recognizing many people are offline, Bayt Al Hikma 2.0 recently used hardware to inform people about safe practices during the COVID-19 pandemic in Baghdad.

This proved challenging, say the organization’s members, as years of misinformation had shaped people’s way of thinking.

“Many people didn’t even believe there was a virus,” exclaims Jaafar Al-Saadi, one of the volunteers delivering tens of thousands of masks and health information about COVID-19. “People believed it was imported from outside to control their lives.”

Early bonds

Saudi Arabia’s Ithra, which means enlightenment in Arabic, is looking to equip young students and learning institutions with the right tools to build their own future opportunities.

Students learn engineering at Ithra

The cultural organization is providing education in areas including engineering and robotics for about 20,000 students who live in the regions of Najran, Jizan, and South Asir.

Ithra’s Southern Border initiative aims to demonstrate practical experience instead of only theory and homework.

Teaching why science is useful is just as important as teaching the subject itself, according to some Ithra members.

Nora Alharthi, an outreach leader at Ithra, tells the story of one inspired student who made his own handheld transceiver to speak with his father who worked in an area with poor cellular reception.

“It’s really heart-warming when you see these young minds harnessing this knowledge to create solutions for the problems they are facing in day to day life,” says Alharthi.

These early bonds with science, she says, will help young Saudis develop the ingenuity and abstract thinking needed to discover the solutions of tomorrow.

SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA: LOVE FOR DEVELOPMENT

Emirati May loves engineering in Abu Dhabi.