"Our role is to ensure the employability of youths"

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Four questions for Jan De Ceuster
Head of the Education, Training & Employment unit

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Why is your unit named 'Education, Training & Employment’? 

In addition to traditional education, and technical and vocational education, we have launched initiatives in support of employment and in view of fostering entrepreneurship. This is our way to more strongly promote the social and economic insertion of youths. It is a direct response to the demands of the authorities of the countries where we operate, but even more to the concerns of the private sector and the population of these countries. Our response also matches the policy priorities of Belgium in support of inclusive economic development and constitutes a good strategy to fight youth unemployment. It also falls under the migration thematic framework. 


Also, the nature of our interventions has changed. Today, we not only provide technical expertise, which our partner country governments need to implement their development policies, but we also take on the facilitating role of an enabler. Our philosophy is to accompany initiatives that are based on local actor competence and that will outlast our intervention.
“In countries with high unemployment rates, it makes a lot of sense to give youths a chance to create their own jobs.”
©Sam Deckers
Why do you focus so strongly on technical and vocational education and training?

Because for many of our partners there is a genuine need in this area and particularly pertaining to involving youths. Our role is also to make sure that youths get employed so they can contribute to their country’s economic development and become part of society. Right now, job prospects just happen to be much better for technical and vocational graduates.

That is why, in Uganda, for instance, we support the reform of technical and vocation education and training through the Skilling Uganda programme. The objective is to reform the existing competence development system and to evolve from education seeking diploma qualifications towards – sometimes short – vocational training courses targeting skills and focusing on job market opportunities. This new policy was defined in partnership with the private sector, among others. Currently, we support the implementation of the Skilling Uganda policy in the field through three projects, for the account of Ireland, the European Union and Belgium. For this we have also sourced expertise from Belgium such as the employment services VDAB, FOREM and – soon – ACTIRIS, as well as Syntra, an agency for entrepreneurial training, and BECI, the Brussels Chamber of Commerce.

Today, one of these projects focuses on training technicians to become skilled welders for the emerging oil sector. The oilfield concessions granted by the Government of Uganda to multinationals often include the obligation to hire local workers. In the past this did not always work out well because Ugandan technicians lacked the skills required by international companies. To prevent foreign investors from losing interest on such a basis, we now work with local actors to provide high-quality training and thus fulfil the recurring demand from businesses which have started working in Uganda. Such projects have a real impact in the field and have the potential to boost the Ugandan economy. 
Has your approach of ‘traditional’ education evolved too?

Yes, of course, in particular thanks to digitisation, allowing teachers to work in a different way and more efficiently during class hours and pupils to take their own learning process in their hands. One of our initiatives in Palestine won Belgium’s D4D – Digital for Development – prize in 2016. It is an e-learning project that we designed in view of changing teaching and learning methods and moving away from ‘ex cathedra’ teaching by using digital tools and promoting active teaching.

The project’s idea was to foster student-centred learning by using ICT tools in education; but without requiring huge investments. Instead, we emphasised incremental progress by schools that can be easily repeated elsewhere. We encouraged teachers to create and share digital teaching materials: a presentation, an interactive tool to explain a grammatical rule, a game… A purpose-made portal website was created for the teachers to share ideas with other teachers and download them.

The portal stimulates collaboration and the sharing of teaching materials. And the results are there: more and more teachers are on the platform to find tools or share new ones. The icing on the cake: we completed our support to the project, but the platform continues to work and it is further being developed!
“Our philosophy is to accompany initiatives that are based on local actor competence and that will outlast our intervention.”
©Ryan Rodrick.
You said that stimulating entrepreneurship is now one of your missions too. Does that evolution make sense?

Of course! Entrepreneurship is not just a concern of our supervising minister. It matches with real needs: in countries with high unemployment rates, it makes so much sense to give youths a chance to create their own jobs. That is why we have projects in Morocco, Vietnam and Palestine launching incubators and accompanying promising initiatives. 

These are not necessarily high-tech businesses: We want to help people put in place local activities that prosper. So, why not support a bakery or garage? We help local partners to provide youths with training in entrepreneurship; we provide these partners with administrative support, backing and coaching. Once more, the idea it to have these initiatives outlast our intervention and develop independently. And thus, to help strengthen the economic fabric of our partner countries. 
©Sam Deckers

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