Breaking the Code

Two women from Afghanistan hold courses in computer programming

01 May 2018
Both Orfan and Hussaini hope to return to Afghanistan after their studies in Pune and expand their teaching on coding and programming.
ketaki latkar
Both Orfan and Hussaini hope to return to Afghanistan after their studies in Pune and expand their teaching on coding and programming.
ketaki latkar

On a humid April evening at the Symbiosis International University’s girls’ hostel in Pune, most of the students stepped out for a stroll. Arifa Orfan, a 23-year-old computer applications student from Ghor in Afghanistan, picked up her laptop and walked to a nearby cafe. Her classmate, Habiba Hussaini, from Ghazni in Aghanistan, accompanied her. When I entered the café, the women were already seated with their laptops and books open next to them. They looked hassled. The internet at the cafe was acting up.

We had met so that they could show me their project, “Hour of Computer,” which comprises modules on programming and coding. Its website hosts courses on networking, web development and application development; it also teaches programming languages, such as Python, Java and C. The course material is free and available in English, with subtitles in Dari, one of the most widely spoken languages in Afghanistan. The two women, who have lived in Pune for the last three-and-a-half years, are in India on an education grant organised by Educational Consultants India—an initiative by the ministry of human-resource development—and the Afghanistan government. They plan to return to Afghanistan after their course and work in education, especially in rural areas.

Orfan and Hussaini told me about the impetus behind their project, for which they have compiled course material over the last year-and-a-half. “We hope to improve access to computer programming for young women in Afghanistan,” Hussaini said. “I always wanted to study something that had a more practical and application-based approach than mere theory. In Afghanistan, most of the good colleges for computer studies were in Kabul. But the courses they offered were usually in computer science and not computer application,” she continued, adding that she and Orfan plan to identify schools and colleges in villages and conduct weekend classes.

Last year, assisted by their mentor Shehrevar Davierwala—a postgraduate in information technology and the officer for international initiatives at Symbiosis—the women started working on a different project, Coding Sisters. Orfan and four other Afghan students from the Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research taught the fundamentals of programming to girls in the seventh grade at Pune Police Public School.

Over two months, Orfan gained hands-on experience in classroom teaching. “We were teaching the girls Html, CSS and JavaScript,” Orfan told me. “Though we were absolutely thorough with the course content, spoken language was a big barrier. Simplifying the concepts and explaining everything in English was not easy. We realised we need to work on our language skills, in addition to revisiting the curriculum and making it very simple and fundamental to understand. So, we came up with e-notes that we added to the modules, with a view to make the learning easier and more user-friendly.”

Ketaki Latkar is a Pune-based journalist who writes about art, culture and community.

Keywords: Afghanistan computer