What’s a Tumo school?
In a sleek classroom in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, one of the poorest post-Soviet republics, 14-year-old Nazeli Ter-Petrosyan peers at the screen of her Apple Mac.
During a computer programming course offered at the high-tech Tumo school, Ter-Petrosyan and her classmates learn how to digitise medieval texts.
In pic: A view of the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan.AFP
Will AI read old manuscripts?
“I’m developing a programme to enable artificial intelligence to read old manuscripts,” said the teen.
Her computer screen features a page from a 15th century Bible held at Armenia’s famed repository of ancient writings, the Matenadaran.
Booming tech sector
Armenia, which is known for its rich history and troubled past, has grappled with poverty, unemployment and a brain drain since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
But despite a stagnant economy, Armenia’s tech sector has been booming over the past decade, boosting hopes that one day the resource-poor country can become a global IT powerhouse.
In pic: A boy runs in front of the building housing the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan.
Tumo is a cutting edge, after-school learning centre, where around 7,000 Armenians aged 12 to 18, from all walks of life, study for free.
Packed with hundreds of computers with industry standard software, 3D printers, video cameras and an animation studio, Tumo gives youngsters an opportunity to study web design, robotics, animation, music, digital media and more.
In pic: Pegor Papazian, chief development officer of the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, speaks during an interview in Yerevan.
The project has been so successful that there is already a Tumo school in Paris and plans for others in Europe and the United States are under way.
In one of the centre’s workshops, students are buzzing with excitement as they learn how to build robots from Lego kits and programme them to perform tasks like collecting rubbish or making a salad.
Tumo aims to raise the next generation of tech professionals and play a role in creating a knowledge-based economy in a country where 30 percent of the population live in poverty.
The Simonians provided the initial investment of $60 million to set up the project but it is now largely self-sustaining, with the centre renting out several floors to tech companies.
The school’s gleaming facade and huge windows contrast with dilapidated Soviet-era residential buildings nearby.
Inside the futuristic, open-plan premises, mobile computer workstations allow students to move around freely.
In pic: A view of the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies in Yerevan.
What Angela Merkel has to say
On average, students spend two to three years at the centre. They create their own learning plans and are assisted by instructors, many of whom come from companies such as Google and Pixar.
There are no grades and, at the end of their studies, students receive digital portfolios showcasing their work.
Last year, the school also earned rave reviews from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“This Tumo is not for Armenia only. It’s international. It’s a philosophy,” she said in August during the first visit to Armenia by a German chancellor.
In pic: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting the Tumo center’s premises in Yerevan.