An innovative program in Jordan has been helping teenagers in private schools choose their college major over the past six years, but now is feeling the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Set up in Amman in 2014, Hashtat uses a simulated university environment to help schoolchildren between the ages of 7 and 18 identify and learn about academic fields and majors in a practical way.
Its founder, Heba Al Awamleh, a graduate in computer science, says the idea of Hashtat was born out of her personal experience of “the agonizing process” of selecting a specialization.
“I wanted to study engineering and discovered that there are 19 specializations. I had to embrace one,” she said, but there was no one to help. (See a related article, “Programs Help High School Students Find the Right Academic Path.”)
It took Al Awamleh two years to build and develop a strategy for Hashtat, at first experimenting with 15 students to see whether they were able to use the program with ease.
“In 2016, we had a fully-developed program which included 24 specializations” including engineering, medicine, finance, accounting and interior design, Al Awamleh said. Students “end up with four to five specializations that will suit their needs.”
The name Hashtat is derived from “hashtag,” which in social media is a way of saying “we look to develop our programs for the future always,” Al Awamleh explained, and “tat” is a short for “talent and talented.”
So far more than 2,000 students ages 14 to 17 have benefitted from Hashtat’s “mini-university” program, “which allows them to know more about a professional degree they are interested in and thus build their own future,” Al Awamleh said.
Services Offered to Private Schools
The program costs around $350 for each student. It targets private and not public schools, and is not officially recognized by the Jordanian Ministry of Education.
“More than 20 schools have requested Hashtat to present its services,” she said.
Before the coronavirus lockdowns, Hashtat held workshops in schools and organized field trips to universities.
The mini-university program lasts for 15 days during the summer holiday, with two one-and-a-half hour sessions a day, and participants receive a certificate.
The certificate is an added asset, especially for students applying to a university abroad which asks about extracurricular activities, she added.
All programs run by Hashtat depend on practical, hands-on experience, and “there is no doubt that we have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis,” Al Awamleh said. Jordan has had more than 645,000 cases of the disease and at least 7,383 people have died.
“For example, if students wanted to try dentistry, they need to try to hold the dentist’s tool and this cannot be held online. It was hard for us to transform our programs into an online experience but we managed to do some kind of a trial like asking students to try at home with tools similar to what they need, for example, to check up teeth of their family members.”
Recent Graduates as Trainers
Hashtat does not have official cooperation with universities but many universities have encouraged the spread of the idea through unofficial channels, Al Awamleh said, because “we provide job opportunities to their students.”
Hashtat employs graduates fresh from universities and trains them to provide school students with the experience they need. “It is more of a youth towards youth aspect, and we are happy to use such a strategy,” she added.
“Our slogan is ‘Your Passion; Our Journey,’ as we emphasize the importance of empowering the student to follow the path he/she loves that is also feasible in the real world,” Al Awamleh said.
“Our slogan is ‘Your Passion; Our Journey,’ as we emphasize the importance of empowering the student to follow the path he/she loves that is also feasible in the real world.”Heba Al Awamleh
Founder of Hashtat
“We believe that it is not enough to just read about one specialization or ask here and there, and that the key to have the best decision is to experience it through practical, day to day exposure. Some study engineering because their father owns an engineering company. Others study medicine because their father is a doctor,” she said. “But if you really think of it, Do you really want that?” (See a related article, “Why I Left the ‘Dream Profession.’”)
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Students who have joined the program expressed their satisfaction.
Tala Al Masri described “this unique program” as “a really excellent opportunity for myself to learn more about what I want to study.”
Heba Kamal said Hashtat “does not focus on what you need to study but also works on making your personality stronger and prepares you to interact with the small society who live inside the campus.”
Sara Abduljalil originally wanted to study medicine, but “after finishing the course, I realized that I like human biology and medicine, but not the life medicine requires. I don’t think medicine is the career I would like to have. And Hashtat helped me to take the right decision and now, I’m thinking about going to business school.”