Striving for a skilled future generation, UCEP Bangladesh is providing Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) together with second-chance-education for children and youth who are unable to attend school.
Two years ago, Rasel Hossain left school to join work in a household in the capital. The 14 year old is still nurturing his dream of joining school again. However, he finds this highly unlikely to happen, considering the reality of his life. Even though she completed a Diploma in Electronics in 2009, Asma Akhter couldn’t begin her career due to some family issues. A few months back, the 31 year old was desperately in need of a job. After facing a number of exams, she realized that with time, not only had her learning at the Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic Institute faded away, but also the current job market demanded more updated knowledge about electronics. “In order to get a job I have joined a six month long-technical course at a private institution,” informed Asma.
There are thousands of stories like those of Rasel and Asma that can be found in every corner of the country. Bangladesh still has to deal with high drop-out rates in both primary and secondary levels - according to a latest projection by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the unemployment rate in Bangladesh will remain static at 4.4 percent in 2018 and 2019.
While discussing this issue, one must address the subject of skilled workers. Shortage of skilled workforce and the absence of quality education are considered to be the main causes of unemployment among the youth in Bangladesh. For the underprivileged communities, it is even harder to attain quality education as well as become part of the skilled workforce in order to secure a decent job.
UCEP Bangladesh, a non-governmental organization, has been working for 46 years providing second chance education to children and youth who are unable to attend school and decent jobs to youth through technical and vocational education and training (TVET). It has a special focus on inclusion and therefore gives additional priority to females, children and youths from poor and underprivileged families and people with disabilities.
UCEP Bangladesh was founded in 1972 by Lindsay Allan Cheyne from New Zealand to support the disadvantaged children and youth. He came to Bangladesh at a time when the country was devastated by a ravaging tornado, followed by the war of independence. He was alarmed and extremely saddened to see the impact of the tornado and the war on the lives of children in particular and decided to help.
Thus began the journey of UCEP Bangladesh. Cheyne worked relentlessly for the children and youth till his last day. He passed away in Dhaka on September 15, 1986. Till date students who had met him, remember him with immense love, respect and admiration.
One of UCEP Bangladesh’s main focus is to provide second-chance education to out of school children and dropouts at primary and secondary levels. Currently, UCEP Bangladesh runs 33 general schools nationwide to provide education in accordance to the national curriculum. After enrollment, students are provided a 12 month long accelerated program to refresh their skills and achieve the national competencies of Grade 1 to 4.
“During the one year accelerated program-known as ROLLS (Remedial of Literary and Life Skills), in addition to their general education, children are made aware about various issues related to basic human rights, child rights, sexual and reproductive health, protection and safeguard against social ills like child marriage or dowry, abuse, harassment etc through their engagement in Child and Youth Councils and discussions on life skills,” informed Tahsinah Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of UCEP Bangladesh.
Following the completion of ROLLs, students move on to complete Grade V (one year), Grade VI (six months), Grade VII (six months) and Grade VIII (one year), after which they can enroll into Grade IX and X for SSC (Vocational) in UCEP Bangladesh’s schools. UCEP Bangladesh’s second-chance education model has proved to be very successful because students have a track record of performing very well in the public examinations.
82.28percent passed the Primary Education Completion (PEC) examination and 76.86percent passed the Junior School Certificate (JSC) examination in 2017. Among 330 students, 98.78percent passed with, 269 achieving GPA A+ (Golden GPA) and 57 achieving A in the SSC Vocational examination.
UCEP Bangladesh believes that along with quality education, practical skills, and entrepreneurial knowledge or ‘soft skills’ are immensely important for strengthening employability to get a job and be successful in professional life. UCEP Bangladesh’s TVET and Skill Development program is designed so that it equips the students with adequate knowledge and demand-based skills for decent jobs. Its TVET and Skills Development program provides training on as many as 38 occupations including solar electrical system, IT, wood work, machine operation and motorcycle servicing.
While talking about the importance of practical learning, Tahsinah Ahmed said,“ There is no alternative but to prepare the students with practical knowledge and expertise in line with a dynamic market system. Besides building strong theoretical knowledge, UCEP Bangladesh’s technical vocational trade modules therefore focuses on training students through hands-on practice.”
UCEP Bangladesh carries out its TVET and Skills Development courses in 10 technical schools, 16 outreach centres (including twogovernment training centres) and community learning centres. Students from the general schools are able to enroll into these TVET courses.
Kaji Raufun Jahan, a student of Electronic Technology has enrolled in the course with the hope that she can support her family soon. With a big smile on her face, she said, “I like being here because I get to learn new things every day. Now I am hopeful that I will get a job soon after I finish the course.”
Mohammad Jobaer Al Mahmood is a student of Motorcycle Service Mechanics trade, which is a six month long technical course. While drawing the diagram of a motor engine he shared, “Due to my family condition I need to pursue an education or training which is short-termed, but will equip me with the knowledge so that I can get a job promptly. I hope after finishing the course my wish will be fulfilled.”
The instructor of the Auto Mechanics Trade, Shohag Prodhan, informed us that many graduates of the course are now employees of TVS, Runner and other renowned motorcycle companies. He also added,“Often we get feedbacks from our previous students that their learning here is helping them to work impeccably,”.
Fulfilling the market demand for skilled workforce
“The active involvement of employers is extremely crucial in developing skills training modules that will address the industry’s needs effectively,” emphasized Tahsinah Ahmed.
It is necessary to understand that the cost of TVET is high and therefore ensuring effective training modules which will be congruent with the industry’s demand is a key element in making UCEP Bangladesh’s technical vocational training program so successful. UCEP Bangladesh has a strong network of around 1,000 industries and enterprises which has been providing support for many decades on a voluntary basis. The network includes ‘Employers Committees’ at regional levels, which provides career counselling to potential students, helps UCEP Bangladesh keep its curriculum updated, provides standards for training, assists in accreditation and job placement, specific industry related ‘Sectoral Committees’ which helps UCEP Bangladesh understand the complex and ever-changing requirements of the industries, and ‘Employer’s Advisory Councils’ at the macro level, which provides strategic guidance to UCEP Bangladesh management.
Due to this constructive partnership with the private sector, the training program of UCEP Bangladesh is extremely effective. “Students are able to take informed decisions on which occupation to pursue and are better motivated when they have the opportunity to consult directly with employers,” added the CEO. Job placement rate is also extremely high due to the quality and relevance of the training. While talking to the students, one response was very common- “the reason to enroll in UCEP Bangladesh’s programs is prompt employment after graduating.”
There is a dedicated team at UCEP Bangladesh, that works to create strategic partnerships with relevant employers in order to ensure job placement of the trainees. On average 90percent of graduates secure jobs in well-known industries and organizations. The job placement rate last year was 98percent. The job placement team also supports graduates who are interested in enterprise development with further training and financial linkages. Generally, about 80percent graduates choose to work in industries and the remaining opt for starting their own business.
“Approximately 16,000 youths graduate from the TVET and Skill Development courses each year, out of which around 40 percent are females,” said Md Rizwanul Haque Khan, Regional Manager, UCEP Dhaka North Region. According to him, the rising number of women graduates is a sign of positive change. “The numbers for girls’ participation in different courses is increasing day by day. It is difficult to say which department continuously has more female enrolmentrates because figures vary for every session. However, girls are seen to be more interested in enrolling in courses like electronics, auto mobile and wood work,” he added, with great pride.
SSC Vocational graduates of UCEP Bangladesh are able to pursue higher education through the UCEP Institute of Science and Technology (UIST). The UIST provides a four year diploma in Engineering in Civil, Electronic and Mechanical courses and has special support for graduates of UCEP Bangladesh’s General Education program.
Needless to say that UCEP Bangladesh is contributing significantly to reduce the gap between supply and demand in industries and contributing to the socio economic development of the country by creating skilled human resources.
UCEP Bangladesh has historically depended heavily on international donors but due to contextual changes, the possibility of continuing donor support is diminishing. Majority of UCEP Bangladesh’s present program is supported by DFID.
Bangladesh has embarked into the Middle-Income threshold and is expected to achieve full status by 2021. In being so, it may not qualify further for funds, especially grants, which are allocated for Low Income Countries. But at the same time, poverty still exists in Bangladesh and families living under this line will still need support for some years to come. On the other hand, out of the 27.1percent illiterate population, thirty million are aged over 15 and three million children are still out of school.
Considering this reality, services of institutions which serve disadvantaged groups in particular, like UCEP Bangladesh, cannot stop and UCEP Bangladesh has therefore taken some measures for resource mobilization.
The UIST is expected to generate some funds as a fee-based institution. UCEP Training Institutes (UTIs) in Dhaka and Sylhet are offering services for accreditation and capacity development of the professionals in the sector. UCEP Bangladesh is also piloting a fee based model at the UCEP School and College (USC). These interventions are being developed as social enterprises so that they can support UCEP Bangladesh’s program in the future.
Manager of Social Enterprise Development, Mazed Hossain Mahin, said, “At present we are running the social enterprises through hybrid financing. However, our goal is to gradually make these social enterprises self-sustainable by 2022, and generate additional revenue thus to support non-profit projects of UCEP Bangladesh in the subsequent years.”
Besides international donors, UCEP Bangladesh is supported by many individuals, national level agencies including the government and the private sector. UCEP Bangladesh believes that it can continue its work to bring lasting positive changes in the lives of children and youth and also continue contributing to poverty eradication in the country if more key factors, especially at the national level come forward with generous support.