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UNESCO empowers global youth to develop mobile applications for sustainable development

UNESCO staff, Lydia (right) and Doreen (left), organized the second YouthMobile training in Juba, South Sudan. CC BY SA UNESCO

At a time when the world is looking for new ways to build peace and sustainable development, encouraging innovation and creativity of youth is vital for effectively addressing these challenges. UNESCO’s YouthMobile Initiative aims to empower youth with the high-level skills and confidence to create mobile apps that are locally-relevant and contribute to the reduction of chronic youth unemployment.

The Organization launched a series of projects in a number of countries worldwide through its Field Office network. Among the projects are situation analysis reports (with a view to identifying and supporting locally driven relevant initiatives), training workshops and app competitions.

Closing ceremony of the second mobile app training. CC BY SA UNESCO

In April 2015, the amazing innovation of the youth of South Sudan was unveiled during a colorful closing ceremony of the second YouthMobile training workshop on applications development, organized by UNESCO and Zain South Sudan in partnership with The Dev School based in Nairobi (Kenya). This workshop was a direct follow-up to the first workshop, where 43 young South Sudanese were trained on how to develop mobile applications based on the App Inventor curriculum from the globally renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA).

For the second training workshop, Zain contributed 45 3G Internet modems, facilitating Internet access, which is such a challenge currently in South Sudan.

The well-attended closing ceremony was held in the UNESCO Juba Office, and culminated with an exciting demonstration and sharing of six mobile applications, relevant to South Sudan context. Three students were awarded with smart phones and 3G Internet modems loaded with mobile data by Zain South Sudan.

The Zain South Sudan CEO and UNESCO Juba Head of Office speak at the closing ceremony. CC BY SA UNESCO

During the closing ceremony, the UNESCO Juba Head of Office and Country Representative, Salah Khaled, reiterated UNESCO’s conviction that mobile applications can play a big role as an interactive communication platform for the various sectors in this country and further encouraged the youth to develop applications that can also empower people with disabilities in South Sudan.

“There is an urgent need to establish a technology innovation hub for the youth, particularly in South Sudan, as a laboratory to research, and incubate information and technology ideas,” stated Mr Khaled.

Guests attending the closing ceremony were amazed by the skills gained by the youth in developing mobile applications, as they demonstrated and shared the following six apps developed during the two weeks of training:

The Salaam peace app. CC BY SA UNESCO

Learn English - A literacy application for adults that works offline, teaching South Sudan users about basic English literacy.

Salaam - A peace application that lets users send messages of peace. These messages can be viewed by everyone who has the app installed on their phones, while those who don’t can view it on a web browser. 

Know South Sudan - A game that quizzes the user on their general knowledge of South Sudan. The aim is to get the world and South Sudanese global users to learn more about their country.

First Aid - This application gives information on first aid procedures and gives the user the contacts to the nearest health clinic based on their location.

Road Safety - An information application on road safety and traffic rules to help curb the numerous road accidents on South Sudan roads.

Agriculture - An information application for farmers based on their location. A farmer can learn the best crops to plant and the conditions/input required. This suggests maximizing growth to integrate information on market prices, which then allows the farmer to sell at the best price.

Young participant displaying his mobile app. CC BY SA UNESCO

Some partners already expressed interest in adapting and utilizing the applications developed by the students.

The UNESCO YouthMobile Initiative highlighted “unusual” challenges faced by developing countries: for example, registering applications with companies such as Google that have not registered South Sudan as a country in their apps store, can prove difficult, if not impossible. In this respect, Mr. Basel Manasrah, the CEO of Zain South Sudan, indicated that he will send a request to Google to open up its application store for South Sudan uploads. He further emphasized the importance of developing mobile applications saying that, “development of mobile applications is extremely important, but more important is the relevancy and the content of these applications within the development context.”

The UNESCO Juba Education Sector will also be organizing a competition for designing an application for teaching and learning literacy, which can be utilized offline. Through a mobile app competition, young people can obtain vital digital skills in a collaborative learning environment.

Besides supporting the competition in South Sudan, YouthMobile is partnering with the city of Oulu (Finland) to conduct a mobile app competition using open data on oceans this summer.

UNESCO is currently conducting YouthMobile national assessments in Nigeria, Namibia, Kenya, Lebanon, and Kazakhstan to evaluate mobile app training needs and relevancy for each respected country. 

YouthMobile is currently collaborating with two global mobile app competition programs. The Technovation Challenge is an annual initiative where more than 6,000 young girls from 30+ countries undertake a 3-month training course in apps programming, design, marketing, and entrepreneurship culminating in a challenge in Silicon Valley. UNESCO is also supporting Telefonica’s Mobile4Change mobile app competition with Patronage, serving as judges for the education-related apps.

To find out more about the UNESCO YouthMobile Initiative, follow us on Twitter @YouthMobile_ or visit our website: www.youthmobile.org

Group photo of the 2nd UNESCO Juba YouthMobile workshop. CC BY SA UNESCO

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