Short Vocational Training Courses in Northern Lao PDR
One of the more enriching parts of working with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is when we get to leave the office and visit the project activities to talk to the project implementer and beneficiaries that our hard work is supposed to help and lift out of poverty.
In Laos, we have several projects under the category, Technical Vocational Education and Training. One of the first projects in this portfolio was the Vocational Education and Training Laos (VELA) project, co-financed by Switzerland and Germany, implemented by GIZ, started in 2013.
The VELA project aims to ensure that Lao youth, particularly disadvantaged groups, have access to quality vocational education and training and that the Lao education system is able to meet the quantitative and qualitative needs of the Lao labor market now and in the future. In other words, people have access to quality education, can obtain a high level of skills, and can find and keep well-paid jobs. Especially Lao youth, particularly from marginalized groups such as ethnic minorities and women.
This past winter, a team of SDC collaborators were able to visit two Vocational Colleges in the Northern provinces of Phongsaly and Oudomxay, where short 6 week courses were provided to Lao youth that have either dropped out or left school before grade 5, known as C1 courses. For various reasons, they left school at a very young age and most are unable to re-enter the formal school systems. Resulting in a life dependent on unskilled low wage labor and most often in poverty for the rest of their lives. These people are the ones that the VELA C1 courses try to reach and provide short training courses that will teach them skills help them earn a decent and respectable income.
Ms. Sonenaly – National Program Officer, Employment and Income
Going to the field is always eye opening for me as a National Program Officer. Having direct communications and observing practices in the field, improve my understanding on what is happening in the projects. The recent visit to the Phongsaly and Oudomxay IVET schools was a good opportunity to see the progress of the project and what results could be achieved against agreed work-plan.
Throughout the trip, I learned that the school Directors have an important role in maintaining the school reputation, operation, and students’ development and eventual employment. Selection of the school Director should be nominated by teachers and students. It is crucial to have a school Director with relevant experiences in the TVET sector and one that aims for a positive change to the development of the local economy.
The implementation of C1 courses at the two schools proved different results. One showed significant results by having disadvantage youths from very remote areas having access to the IVET school courses, while the other school achieved lesser results.
I feel that although the environment for skills training and employment opportunities to the disadvantage youth might be challenging, a good school director will find a strategy to facilitate and overcome these issues. Therefore, capacity building to the school management especially school director is one of the crucial factors for the success of the VELA project’s C1 courses.
Mr. Tian, SDC Finance Controller
It was a great opportunity for someone from the finance staff to join the field trip with the operational team. It is essential for finance staff observe the implementing institution as well as its programs and activities. This creates a clearer picture about how the money would flow from SDC to the beneficiaries. Fields visit also aids finance staff when they work on budgeting and reviewing financial statements. It also gives us a chance to talk with the project finance staff in order to learn more about their internal controls and to discuss any concerns or problems the a project might have and hence seek solutions together.
In Phongsaly, I was impressed with the promotional activities that the school did in order to attract more students to C1 courses. They have been working very hard with local authorities and international organizations to get students enrolled in these courses. However, the promotional tools need to be more creative to ensure that all the messages have been delivered to target students, parents and their communities. The school also provides Financial Literacy and Life Skills Training to students who are selected to the program prior to the start of the course. The course mainly teaches students how to manage money they receive through the scholarship as well as social skills about how to live with other students in the same dormitory that are from different backgrounds.
In Oudomxay, the C1 courses provide great opportunity to generate income for the students. The carpenter course, for example, has received a lot of furniture orders from individual households and private businesses. The furniture produced from C1 course are good quality and relatively cheaper than the market. Sadly, not many students enrolled in this carpenter course and even with the teacher promoting the skills learned as a good career choice to potential students. Moreover, C1 course should be able to provide students entrepreneurship skills and encourage them to start up their own businesses in the future. After talking with the C1 students, we get the assurance that there is a great demand to continue their studies and enroll further into C2 and C3 courses once they are available. The students all agree that they want to gain more knowledge, skills to better their lives.
Mr. Toula – Communication Officer
For me, as the Communication Officer, I’m responsible for finding creative ways to document and share project activities and progress throughout our networks, it’s vital that I join and attend field mission visits to our projects. The VELA program in particular is interesting to me since I was a part of the team that initially developed the concept and project design hypothesizing that providing vocational education and skills development to Lao youth would create opportunities for them to earn a better income and would be one of the best ways to reduce poverty in the country.
During the inception phase we were able to visit the TVET schools throughout the country that were just starting to develop work-plans and build infrastructure to accommodate these students. Everything was just starting so no one could show any results. Now that I get to go back and visit these schools, after 3 years and actually see how the schools have changed, meet and talk to the students and teachers was very satisfying.
Although the results vary from school to school, I truly believe that the efforts from the project implementation teams, and school administrations are genuinely trying hard to get Lao people who could benefit from the courses the most, enrolled and completing the courses. It is not an easy task.
Some of students haven’t been in any kind of education setting since the 5th grade. When I was in 5th grade I surely wasn’t focused on learning. I can’t imagine how hard it is to leave everything behind, go to a new town with all the unfamiliarity that moving involves and refocus after at least 10-20 years being out of school.
Many of the students told me it is very tough, especially the women to attend these courses. You leave family and loved ones behind back home that depend on you for support, but they tell me it is for the better. Many tell me that they believe that after they finish the courses, the skills that they learn will help them get jobs and earn income to help their families. Most of them tell me they want to continue to the C2 and C3 courses if available. Only a few dream that they will own their own business after they graduate. Those are the ones that I want to come back and visit to see if their dreams came true.
(12/2013-8/2018, CHF 12,900,000).
The project, co-financed by Switzerland and Germany, implemented by GIZ, provides support to the reform of technical and vocational education and training in Lao PDR.