Rihab Hajjaji

“It's unfair we have a system that structurally puts children from minority backgrounds in a position to lose,” says Rihab Hajjaji, founder of PEP!

Rihab Hajjaji

“It's unfair we have a system that structurally puts children from minority backgrounds in a position to lose,” says Rihab Hajjaji, founder of PEP!

The factors are complex, but the facts are unavoidable. As Rihab Hajjaji explains in this video, children in Belgium with immigrant backgrounds do significantly poorer in school than those born in the country.

In 2017, Rihab Hajjaji, an IBM consultant, founded Positive Education Psychology (PEP!), to promote equity in education in Belgian schools with a focus on role modeling for school-aged children, information on educational options and exposure to innovation through master classes and tech fairs.

With the help of over 50 volunteers, more than 800 students participated in activities in 2018, facilitated by numerous IBM Activity Kits and supported by an IBM Community Grant.

Rihab was named one of the 50 “Future Builders” of Belgium by a local newspaper and the Social Economic Council of Flanders acknowledged her organization as a best practice for involving women and minorities in higher education.

Watch the video to hear Rihab talk about PEP! Also, IBM Volunteers spoke to Rihab to learn more about her efforts.

Rihab, what was your motivation to create Positive Education Psychology? Why was it important to you to do so?
In Flanders we have the biggest ethnic gap in our educational system. This means there is no other place in the world where there is a bigger difference in educational achievements between children from minorities and non-minorities. This was very shocking for me when I read it in the OESO report. I didn't expect it from a country like Belgium, even though it was actually always very clear but a hidden fact that minorities under performed in schools and hardly reached universities; they are also under represented in management positions.

For me, this is a crisis situation and a problem for a society as a whole that should be a priority. That's why I am motivated to work on the topic. It's unfair that we have a system that structurally puts children from minority backgrounds in a position to lose.

Of the various activities and events at PEP!, is there something in particular that you are most pleased about?
We organised a technology fair where a lot of different companies were present. The goal of the expo was to deliver an experience to children who do not have a lot of access to technology and innovation. Our expo was divided into different technologies such as AI, financial tech, health tech, and so on. Each of the companies had to provide an experience for the kids to help them understand technology related to that area and how it works.

For the IBM portion, we provided PEPPER to show how artificial intelligence works and how this technology can be used with clients. This way the kids have a firsthand taste of innovation in a way that is interesting and valuable to them.

We had over 600 kids and parents at the event from all kinds of backgrounds; for most of them, it was the first time they saw technology and innovation in such an engaging way.

With this event we got national exposure and support, including from the government through the secretary of digital innovation, who named us a best practice for involving women and kids in technology.

How valuable is the collaboration and support of your fellow volunteers?
This is vital. It is because of the volunteers that we were able to have such an impact with our projects. I am very grateful for the role everybody played in our performance the last two and half years. I want to thank them and congratulate them with the great work they’ve done.

What is most personally satisfying to you about working with PEP!?
I am very satisfied that we collect a lot of data that helps us evaluate if we are on the right track or not. I am very honoured to see that we are truly having an impact and having a positive influence on the kids who join our projects.

What is your best hope for the students who participate in activities with PEP!?
My hope is the same as the vision we have for PEP: that our children become the best version of themselves with our help.

Rihab Hajjaji is among 15 IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the fourteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees. It includes an IBM grant for the associated not-for-profit partner or school.

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