Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1305, (28 July - 3 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

From students to workers

Mai Samih hears how a new EU-Egypt programme is aiming to improve technical and vocational education in Egypt and the employability of graduates

From students to workers
From students to workers
Al-Ahram Weekly

The Technical Vocational Educational Training (TVET) reform programme is a two-phase project initiated by the European Union and the Egyptian government to improve the quality and efficiency of technical education and training in Egypt. It aims at assisting the Ministry of Education in bringing about such change and in monitoring its effects after the end of the programme. It is the first joint project in which the Egyptian government has provided most of the funds. The second phase began this year with the aim of preparing more skilled young people for the work market.

Project implementation director Ehab Shawki said that “this is the second phase of the TVET project, which will last for seven years. It is funded by both the European Union and the Egyptian government with 117 million Euros. The Egyptian government has contributed 67 million Euros while the EU has given 50 million.” 

It is divided into three components: governance, quality development, and moving to the work market. There are about 120 institutes and authorities in Egypt that work in the field of education, and the programme’s governance component is designed to help co-ordinate those entities. “Quality assurance means ensuring good infrastructure, tools, and quality of services through good teachers and good school administration,” Shawki said. 

“The moving to the work market division aims at focusing on those who are looking for a job or who are already working in industry by helping them through training and transfer units in schools. There is also a market information system that ties the needs of the market to the training departments.”

“The main aim of the programme is to provide a workforce according to the needs of the work market,” Shawki added. “That is, we want to make sure that a graduate who is wanted in the work market will be able to work in his field of expertise. The aim of all such projects is to increase the quality of those entering the work market.” The first phase of the programme was based on studies before moving onto implementation in the second phase in which graduates directly begin to work.

“We aim to work in 67 schools and are working on the infrastructure of about 200 to 250 schools and training centres. We will provide 67 schools with tools with the help of the EU and will train about 9,000 teachers in 1,380 technical schools. We are also working on improving the image of technical education in Egypt,” Shawki said, adding that this was one of the most difficult tasks in the programme. The idea is to restore the image of vocational education among the wider public, helping it to gain respect as used to happen in the past. 

“This could occur if we focus on success stories or organise competitions for technical students. We intend to focus on their role in building society and are considering making technical education an option in universities. This would mean that a student would graduate from a university but with a technical BA after three years in a technical school,” Shawki added.

The system resembles the German vocational apprenticeship system, called a “dual system,” in which a student is trained both at school and in the workplace at the same time. The system turns apprentices into customised specialists at low cost through in-house training and has resulted in 54 per cent of skilled craftsmen in Germany out of the overall workforce. 

“There is also a financial difference between this project and others in the fact that it has the largest budget for this type of activity yet seen in Egypt,” Shawki said. “In terms of implementation, we think of the sustainability of the project even after it ends in every step we take. First, we are using the expertise of experts working in governmental institutes so that when the project ends they can continue on the same path. Second, they do not just train, but they also coach afterwards, such that after a person is trained he is able to execute what he has learnt.”   

 

TRAINING QUALITY: The quality development component is funded by 60 per cent of the total funding of the project, with 46 million Euros being spent on infrastructure training, tools, training teachers, and the accreditation of schools, according to Moushir Ali, manager of the TVET quality development component.

Ali analyses the drawbacks the programme faces. “The problem is the lack of skilled workers. There are millions of dollars in investments in Egypt, but there are few skilled workers. Many people want to take up what they perceive as easy jobs, and few want to work in a job that is 12 hours long each day and requires considerable commitment. This results in a lack of skilled workers,” he comments.

 “The problem is particularly apparent in the age group from 19 to 39, which is why we are training technical school graduates to become skilled workers. We are also developing tools and syllabi to ensure that the market is provided with trained workers.” According to Ali, the work is being carried out on two levels: the first is a fast track on which the skills of technical graduates are improved; and the second is in the long run in which the technical educational system is improved, this needing a lot of development in terms of infrastructure, syllabi, the capacity building of teachers, and tools.   

“The EU is giving us technical support, updated methodologies and know-how. Our role in Egypt is to boost this and give it sustainability. So our role is to build institutions that can absorb this knowledge and convey it to others. The budget for this is around 20 million Euros,” Ali says, adding that efforts are being made to develop the syllabi according to the needs of the work market as industry representatives constantly complain of the lack of skills in many fresh technical school graduates. These new syllabi are termed “competitiveness-based syllabi” as they are designed to give students skills and teach them the behaviour needed in the work place.  

The current syllabi of technical schools are being screened and templates formed for the syllabi the Ministry of Education needs to approve. “We aim at developing infrastructure and working hard to maintain electricity, sanitation, and desks, boards, and windows,” Ali adds. 

The aim is to adapt the European model and not just take it over as it is because the circumstances in terms of student density and student-teacher ratio in Egypt are different to those in Europe. All the training sessions in the first year will be under EU supervision. “We want to create an Egyptian model that is recognised worldwide. We want Egyptian skills to be recognised by Germany, for example. This will happen through revising syllabi and providing a link between schools and industry representatives through a scientific method and from the industrial perspective,” Ali says.

Mohamed Ragab is in charge of the third component of the programme, transferring technical graduates to the work market. “Our component works with the private institutions that host graduates who are supposed to be trained and prepared for the work market and private-sector workplaces like factories. Our main aim is to reduce unemployment and provide graduates with job opportunities,” he says.

 Statistics show that recent months have seen more and more job opportunities for young people, but youth unemployment remains a pressing issue for Egypt. This problem is a persistent one and will continue as long as graduates are not prepared for work on the technical and behavioural levels, he says. “As long as this problem exists, we will be waiting to prepare graduates for the work market directly, something which is currently rare in the technical educational system,” he adds. 

“We support institutions that help students prepare for the work market. The Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Education are among these, as is the Institute of Higher Education, though we are concerned with technical education mainly. The Ministry of Manpower provides work opportunities, for example, and working with others we help by developing systems so that the whole process can be run successfully,” Ragab says. 

One example is the unit to ease transfer to the work market in the Ministry of Education that helps prepare students, find job opportunities for them, and send them out to jobs. The unit is supervised by teachers or experts from the ministry. “There is a section called ‘entrepreneurship and creativity,’ in which we try to convey these ideas to students and help them to develop themselves. The role of the teacher is to facilitate things so that the student after graduation has the choice of working in a private company or preparing a feasibility study and seeking financing for his own project,” Ragab adds.

Students benefit from the experience of experts from the EU, who can inform them of new trends and what is occurring in the wider world. They also convey their experience and best practices in the field of technical education, Ragab says. “With their help, we have started a process of adaptation to absorb all this information. We arrange it in the form of executive programmes that suit Egypt and start work through the ministries concerned. The ministry of trade and industry operates this system through its institutes such as the Egyptian Industries Union and its commercial and industrial chambers and investors associations, for example,” comments Ragab.

“We have a six million Euro grant for young people from 18 to 30 years old to help them get better prepared for the workplace. Our colleagues are currently studying the local NGOs that have applied for it, these acting as local implementation agencies. We also specially support women who want to join the programme. An average grant for a graduate who would like to start his own project is 60,000 Euros. He can either go to the public sector or to the private sector or to one of the NGOs we are working through to seek funding,” Ragab says. 

The institutes in question are asked to monitor the progress of the graduates after they join the work place as well as the factories they join in o frder to pinpoint any problems. This feedback is used to improve the programme as a whole.

 

LEARNING FROM ELSEWHERE: Yochka Anastasova, a TVET educational consultant, is a former Bulgarian university professor who has been working for the European Commission for the last 15 years. Before that she worked in the National Research Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Bulgaria for 25 years. She is now analysing the situation in Egypt on technical education, hoping to use her expertise to improve it.  

“All the former Soviet countries have now implemented the German vocational model, and in Bulgaria it was implemented 100 years ago. Acting on the request from the Ministry of Education in Egypt, we are working with the German system here too. I have just finalised the new template of the curriculum of the training programmes that will start to be developed in Egypt,” Anastasova says. 

This format is based on the concept of competencies and it also draws on the model used in Finland because this seems very close to a qualificational framework that can also be used in Egypt. “We are aiming to meet the requirements of the Egyptian government, which we try to improve based on the European model through incorporating best practices from Germany, Finland, and other European countries. We will thus implement the successful models explored in other countries, but in modified form,” she says. 

“People here want to know European standards, but there are no European standards as such. Every country in Europe has common concepts – we have the concept of vocational training, the concept of social partnership, and the concept of lifelong learning – but these may be implemented in different ways. However, we need to provide students with a number of key competencies that are not only related to vocational educational training but also to the personal development of any person. That is why we have these common concepts and common methodologies, even if we implement them differently,” Anastasova says.

What the programme is trying to do in Egypt is to introduce best practices, making them applicable to the Egyptian system. This it will do through the training curriculum in co-operation with social partnerships. It is also doing this with employers by noting their requirements for the skills and competencies that are related directly to jobs and based on developing better training programmes.

“People working in technical education in Egypt are extremely hard workers. I have worked in 20 countries and have never worked with such good co-partners. They are trying to do everything they can, which means that the system has good capacity, good staff, and the good will to do everything needed to improve. People want to learn, and they can learn. They just need somebody to come in and improve their capacity, which is what we are trying to do by using practices from outside the country,” Anastasova says.  

Vocational and technical education is both theoretical and practical, but the practical side is necessarily more important than the theoretical one, she adds. “The students need to find a way to explore possibilities through well-prepared practical training. This will be the main challenge.”

She also thinks the problem of the negative image of technical education in Egypt is a social one which will end with raising the awareness of people more generally. “In my country, there was a similar problem, and we needed to find a way to explain to students who wanted to enrol in technical education that after school they would have a good job and earn good money,” she says. The same thing is true in Egypt, she thinks, where technical education needs to be made more attractive by linking it to a university education as people will then understand that they will have a good job and a good salary afterwards.

“It was like this 25 years ago in the post-Soviet countries. Now we have too many students who want to enrol in the technical schools and we cannot enrol them all. If you want to enrol all the students who really want to study in the technical schools, you can make the admission exams more difficult, for example. The career guidance system should reassure students and parents that after students finish they will be in a good position and will not need to go to university. I was working in Jordan and found that some people in the Middle East think that they need to get a PhD to have a high social status. This is not true.” 

If the national qualificational framework is properly prepared, people will see that the place they get their certificate from is the same as a university in terms of qualifications and job availability, she says. The solution to the problem is the ownership of the system, preferably joining the administration of the technical educational system with the Ministry of Education, social partners, and NGOs. The Ministry of Education, labour, and social policies have joint ownership of vocational technical education in European countries, for example, and not all education is in the hands of one ministry, as is the case in Egypt.

“It is very important to understand that ownership does not mean single leadership. There needs to be integration between the educational system and other key players,” Anastasova says. 

“We are preparing the curriculum first, followed by a huge project under which the curriculum will be implemented. We are working on occupational standards, adapting skills standards from the British system. The attractiveness of the TVET system really depends on this,” Anastasova adds, saying that any graduate should ask himself if he is prepared for the job he intends to do. The new system should help graduates understand that they are there to learn occupational standards and after they leave school they should be prepared to take several different jobs. 

 

CERTIFICATION: “The last thing is certification. As a result of the new system, this will be easily recognised not only in Egypt but also abroad as the programme is supported by the EU. Meanwhile, we are training teachers how to improve their skills. The system has enough resources, but they need to be used correctly and efficiently.”

“There have been many systems used in Egypt, but we are trying now to use one system that the ministry approves of according to European standards. New laws will also be critical to solving the problems of technical education,” says Shawki, adding that technical education in itself does not need financial support from the government because it can fund itself through links with industry. What it does need, however, is non-traditional solutions. 

“The laws should be changed to help schools transform themselves into schools producing ‘products’ that can be sold in the marketplace and bring in money. This is simple to carry out, but is prevented by the current laws. We are meeting with our colleagues in the Ministry of Education to see the problems they face. Then, we will start to sign contracts with experts in the field of law and finance and form a team to make proposals for new laws to govern the educational process. We will give these to the ministry, hoping that it can use them to draft new laws. We hope to be partners with the government in every step we take,” Shawki says. 

Regarding future plans, he adds that “we are signing contracts with experts who will work with us until September or October. We will start intensifying our activities in November and aim at starting entrepreneurship projects. We hope to train a large number of people in vocational skills and upgrade the skills of those who are already working. We have already started implementing some training activities, but the peak of these will be in January 2017. The whole programme should take some two to three years.”

add comment

  
 
 
  • follow us on