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LAU brings Lebanon into the fold of the International Olympiad in Informatics

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LAU held the first dry run of the IOI, which was a huge success.

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The department is already planning to raise awareness among students, and train those who are interested.

October 1, 2014—

Lebanon has never participated in the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), but with LAU at the helm of academic computing in the country, this is set to change. In September, LAU hosted Lebanon’s first dry run of qualifiers, with the aim of training and sending students to the IOI next year.

Dr. Faisal N. Abu Khzam, associate professor and chairperson of the Department of Computer Science and Mathematics explains why the IOI is important. “The competition is especially significant in Lebanon, because our high schools lag behind when it comes to the discipline. They are only taught very basic computer skills and not programming. Computer Science should be made more attractive to high school students. It is full of opportunities and excellent jobs, and also the most interdisciplinary field.”

LAU has been very active in outreach to high school students, notably through its computer science summer camps in Beirut and Byblos. According to Abu Khzam, though, a large number of highly qualified high school students are still not choosing to major in computer science because they don’t know much about it and the opportunities it can generate. Looking for proof? “Those who win the Silver or Gold Medals at the IOI are often awarded scholarships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

IOI is a prestigious annual programming competition for high school students. Each year, it is organized in and by one of the participating countries. Delegations come from all over the world, usually comprised of four contestants and two accompanying adults. Students are typically given three problems, which they have to solve in five hours. They have to work on their own, with only a computer and no other outside help. Contestants are tasked with writing computer programs on each of the two competition days, while cultural and recreational events are organized on the remaining ones.

The IOI dry run was a success for LAU. Dean Nashaat Mansour declares, “To me it’s very obvious that our Department of Computer Science and Mathematics should hold this prestigious national competition at LAU because we have had a pioneering role as the first computer science program in Lebanon – at both the undergraduate and graduate level – and we are committed to serving and educating young people about this field,” he says before adding, “I hope such an event will encourage more young people to consider this major. The country needs it, the region needs it and even the world needs graduates of this program. For computer science education, LAU is the place to be.”

The computer science department is already working on a plan to raise awareness among high school students about the field and will train interested learners for the next IOI. 


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