Coding academy opens new opportunities for Moroccan youth

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Article Summary
3W Academy Maroc aims at addressing youth unemployment in Morocco through accessible tech education.

“We really believe that coding is a solution for our youth. It’s a skill that is going to open doors,” said Hamza Debbarh, founder of 3W Academy Maroc.

The coding school opened its doors in October 2018 in Casablanca. Founded in France in 2012, 3W Academy also has a branch in Tunis. Its main program is a 3-month web development bootcamp that is open to students regardless of their technology background. Students work on real projects and participate in internships, using an online platform common to all 3W Academy schools.

Guided by a blended learning approach, the platform allows students to work on exercises from home and in the classroom. In Morocco, a country where the youth unemployment rate stood at 24% at the beginning of 2019, this skill-focused training has the potential to transform lives.

“We create opportunities for people through technology — people with no background in tech, who work low-paying jobs or have degrees that haven’t been useful,” Mahdi Lafram, head of communications and community at 3W Academy, told Al-Monitor.

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Ali Ait Belk, one of the first 3W Academy graduates, agrees that his training has created new opportunities. “I worked as a cashier in a restaurant for 2½ years. I did the full stack development program in order to get a new job and advance my career,” he told Al-Monitor. Originally from Agadir, Belk is now employed as a junior web developer with a small agency based in Rabat. He envisions moving into IT project management and starting his own web agency.

Youth unemployment is steep in Morocco: One in three Moroccan graduates of higher education institutions cannot find jobs, according to a Reuters report.

As a board member of Education for Employment, a nonprofit organization that trains Moroccan youths and connects them to jobs in the region, Debbarh examined youth unemployment, wondering about the skills young people need to get a job and be financially independent.

Hamza Debbarh, founder of the 3W Academy, speaks at the 2019 Hackathon.

“If you have skills for coding or web development, you can easily find work in the Moroccan job market. Or you can get freelance jobs in any job market,” he said.

Many of the students were self-trained prior to coming to 3W, reflecting a growing demand for coding skills in Morocco and regionally. 3W Academy is also focused on attracting students who had no prior passion for tech or web development.

“We try to get people excited about coding and opportunities in the tech sector,” Lafram said.

3W Academy primarily works toward this goal by offering free coding workshops, in addition to a 3-month web development program. Since its opening in Morocco, it has provided free coding classes on a weekly basis, reaching more than 1,000 students.

“We want to democratize access to coding, IT skills and web development for Moroccans and people in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the rest of Africa,” Debbarh added.

Similar initiatives already exist in Morocco, such as YouCode, a tuition-free coding school in Yousoufia that opened in 2018 and trains students ages 18 to 35 regardless of their background, aiming to make jobs in the tech sector accessible to underrepresented groups.

Improving the representation of women in tech is one of 3W’s goals, which has proven to be a challenge so far. The vast majority of students are men, but women make up almost 50% of participants in the free coding classes. Currently, two women take part in the 3-month program and they will graduate later this year.

3W Academy tries to maintain affordable prices and a flexible payment plan. Its campus is located in the center of Casablanca, chosen for its proximity to businesses and transportation. Looking toward geographic development, 3W is in conversation with potential partners in two other cities in Morocco, and new campuses would be situated in city centers for accessibility.

Debbarh and his team plan to launch an online platform across the Middle East and North Africa as well as the rest of Africa by 2020. “Entrepreneurs who are interested in social impact often prioritize the business side [at the expense of making an impact],” Debbarh said. His ambition to grow 3W Academy Maroc comes alongside a commitment to the human and social sides of the startup.

His determination to prioritize social impact stems from his family background. Born into a family of educators, he said, “We talked about education during breakfast, lunch and dinner.” He attended business school and received a master’s degree in education science in France. Before returning to Morocco, he learned about and decided to partner with 3W Academy.

3W joins a growing startup scene in Morocco, centered in Casablanca. “The story behind 3W is really just happening,” Debbarh concluded. “I’m telling you a story that I couldn’t tell you two years ago.”

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Catherine Cartier studies history and Arab studies at Davidson College. Her work has been featured in the New Arab, Syria Untold and Calvert Journal. She is a Beyond Religion Reporting Fellow at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. On Twitter: @cartier_cath

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