terça-feira, 18 de janeiro de 2011

East Timor's 'Nuniversity'


LAUTEM — The nuns were creating an almighty din. In one room there was a sister getting down with a keyboard, while in another there were a couple of nuns bashing out chords on guitars.

While not the most gifted musicians of the Catholic Church, the sisters' real talents lie in equipping some of Timor-Leste's poorest young women with skills they can use to find work as the government tries desperately to support its disenfranchised youth demographic.

“Every year, more and more people want to come here to our training centre,” said Sister Alexandrina Pinto, the head of the Madalene Morano Women’s Skills Training Centre in Los Palos, Lautem district. “This year we had about 250 people apply, but we could only take about 50. We take on the girls who really need our help. When they graduate they get a certificate signed by the government.”

Set up in 2002, the center runs one-year courses in secretarial skills and tailoring with the aim of getting young women into the job market with skills that will actually appeal to employers. During the year, students do two months of work experience, often with NGOs or government departments.

“The priority for us are girls who are very poor who can’t afford to go to university,” said Pinto, adding that the bulk of the teaching is done by two nuns and five other teachers.

The center has been such a success that the government now plans to formally accredited it to deliver a national qualification in Administration and Finance as part of an overarching scheme to bring the country's skills training providers up to scratch.

“Because the teaching here is of a high standard, we support the sisters with funding and with some class materials,” said Leonor Bernardo, a technical assistant for on-job training for the Secretariat of State for Vocational Training and Employment (SEFOPE).

Timor-Leste National Qualifications Framework falls under the government's AusAid-supported National Labour Force Development Institute (INDMO), which is developing the registration and accreditation standards, she added.

Having only achieved formal independence in 2002, it's been a rocky few years for East Timor but things are moving forward and the government is keen to move away from the norm of subsistence farming activities, which is no small task given that 80 percent of the population of 1.1 million live in rural areas.

“The real question is how can we care about people who live in rural areas?” said Isabel Fernandes de Lima, the chief secretariat of INDMO. “We have a few institutions at the moment that are quite strong, but in fact, we have almost 100 training providers of varying levels. There are maybe 10 to 15 strong ones, including two institutions that belong to the government.”

Working with training providers to boost their capacity is a must if people are going to be able to find gainful employment opportunities, particularly for the country's largely disenfranchised youth demographic, many of whom cannot afford to go through formal education.

The government's new national qualifications framework should also help by giving more training centers the power to award qualifications that will hold weight against those attained in schools and universities

Unemployment among youths in Timor-Leste's urban areas is about 35 percent and there is a great need to develop industries that can absorb the country's jobless young, particularly as their widespread discontent played a role in the violence that erupted in capital Dili in 2006, leading to the displacement of about 150,000 people.

“We have established four sectors: tourism and hospitality; construction; administration finance and IT; and education training assessment, and we are establishing two more sub-commissions—automotive and agriculture,” said Fernandes.

“First we do the industry analysis before holding a workshop with all the industry people to let them know our results,” she said. “These results have to define the levels of the industry's needs. We then establish a sub-commission to endorse competency standards and get training providers registered and accredited.”

Tackling unemployment has been a tough task for SEFOPE, an institution that has been strengthened by the International Labour Organization.

Timor-Leste's labour force is in excess of 300,000, and in 2009 the government created about 45,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the private sector only accounts for 40,000 people, most of whom are self-employed.

Through continued support, the nuns at Madalene Morano can now boast that 85 percent of their graduates have found work.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

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