MIT Arab SciTech Virtual IDEAthon rethinks learning during Covid-19

This spring, the MIT Arab Student Organization hosted a virtual IDEAthon with the theme “Learn from Home: Rethinking Learning during the Covid-19 Crisis.” The IDEAthon was the first step to tackle the challenges facing more than 200 million students in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region who had their education disrupted due the current global pandemic. The goal of the IDEAthon is to develop a large quantity of high-impact ideas that can improve current educational outcomes in the MENA region.

More than 250 people from 25 countries participated in the MIT Arab SciTech Virtual IDEAthon. Over the course of the half-day event, participants worked with their mentors to define the right problem statements, brainstorm solutions, and demo their proposals. In total, 42 teams pitched their ideas to a group of judges. The top 10 ideas were selected to receive further support from the IDEAthon team.

Highlights from the event include design thinking workshops, a live “oud break” from Palestinian musician Mohammed AbuMosallam, as well as a keynote speech from Rama Chakaki, founder and executive director of The recordings of the day are available here and here.

Each of the finalists had about three weeks to refine their solutions with the help of their mentors, and the most promising ideas will be offered seed funding and implementation support. Below are brief descriptions of the top 10 ideas submitted.

Accessible Remote Learning

Over 5 percent of the world’s population has disabling hearing loss, and students with hearing disabilities demonstrate lower educational attainment levels. In a remote-learning context, accessibility of educational content for students with hearing impairments is particularly challenging in the Arab world because of the need for live sign language interpretation.

To solve this challenge, ARL are developing an extension that can be plugged in online-learning websites that translates speech to sign language in real time through an animated avatar.


In Morocco, the education gap between the urban and rural areas is staggering. The high school enrollment rate is about 10 percent in rural areas versus 50 percent in urban areas. There is a high drop-off rate between middle school and high school for children from rural villages, as their schools are often located far away and they lack the right support tools. The current pandemic only exacerbates this situation, leaving more than 2 million rural students at risk.

AnaMa3ak is a free smartphone app for iOS and Android that connects underprivileged students with retired schoolteachers so they can provide them with after-school assistance. The app is optimized for low data usage.

Coffee Break

Networking is crucial for peer-to-peer exchange and learning. Yet, social isolation limits opportunities to meet, check in, and network organically with peers and connections.

Coffee Break’s solution is a video platform with a strong focus on creating networks within existing communities by introducing spontaneity. Their platform allows people to bump into others while “visiting different floors,” and passively nudges them to meet new people on the room.


In the past years, young Saudi students showed great potential in the field of scientific research, gaining more than 80 medals and awards. Despite high willingness to be participate in scientific research, few students have access to lab facilities and research opportunities.

Connect is an app that can facilitate remote participation into research activities by connecting students to research centers as well as to research mentors. Connect aims to improve the coordination between existing research labs and improve their reach.

Low student engagement in class is aggravated during the Covid-19 crisis. Initial research shows that most parents and teachers notice a difference in the engagement of students when at home, with the key pain points being lack of access to methodological and contextual information. The most impacted age group are students between 6 and 15 years old.

DARSE is a digital augmented reality student engagement platform that aims to make studying at home engaging and interactive. Students can use their smartphones to access additional education content via AR. They can also create their own content that can be shared with their peers and teachers.


Mental health is difficult topic in the MENA region. Parents often lack the skills to adequately deal with their children’s mental and behavioral challenges. As families are spending more time together due to the pandemic, parents need adequate tools to help their children.

iCare is a team of psychologists from Syria who are developing a mobile app that provides remote consultations, as well educational content for parents and teens.


The current pandemic prompts us to rethink the established educational model, which is highly vulnerable to teacher availability, school budgets, etc. How can we develop a new and improved educational model that performs robustly under extreme conditions?

IgnoVac is an empathy-based educational system that creates self-sufficient learners who positively impact society. The system engages students through project-based problems chosen from a predefined set of societal systems. IgnoVac will be launching a pilot program in refugee camps in Jordan this summer.


For millions of students in the MENA region, education in the time of a pandemic is simply not an option. Not everyone has internet access, and a transition to online learning makes this gap even worse. For several families, the cost of an internet subscription is a heavy financial burden they cannot afford to bear in times of reduced employment and increased hazard such as these ones.

MENAnet builds infrastructure that enables people to have access to inexpensive and reliable networks. By signing up for MENAnet’s subscription model, we are allowing existing users to share their unused internet for a low fee and get bill credits to lower their monthly payment.


Low-resource students in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are particularly vulnerable during the Covid-19 crisis. In particular, they lack access to quality peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

The majority of students and households in KSA have access to phones. Moyaser(ä) leverages this to provide a fair platform that connects students to mentors who assist them with schoolwork and college applications. Moyaser(ä) had a successful alpha pilot and is currently planning their wider beta release.


For Arab kids age 10-18, there is not enough post-classroom support due to a lack of digital and engaging Arabic educational content. It is estimated that only 3 percent of content on the internet is in Arabic, while Arabic speakers make up more than 7 percent of the global population.

Ilmuna is a social media app for MENA students to upload creative educational videos on school subject matter in Arabic. Submissions will be incentivized through contests.

Ilmuna is planning to go to market by July 2020.

Contact the organizers to get in touch with any of the participating teams.