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Vocational Schools Offer Micro-business Skills in Ecuador
By Kintto Lucas
Inter Press Service

    QUITO, Apr 4 (IPS) - Ecuador is on its way to modifying the adult education system, by rewriting curriculum for an estimated 65,000 students in 1,700 vocational schools. The plan being carried out by the Education Ministry is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
   The majority of Ecuador's vocational centres -- some 1,000 -- teach trades and crafts like dress making, while the rest are ''popular'' or community education schools.
   In fact under the new plan, garments made in the popular dressmaking classes will be sold. So far students have been able to keep what they tailored for themselves and their families.
   The new plan is being implemented by the National Office for Ongoing Popular Education or Dinepp, which is now in the stage of training the staff of the first 50 participating schools, while the basic curriculum is being drawn up.
   The programme, being implemented this month with 40,000 dollars from the Education Ministry, will be introduced in 50 vocational schools in the sierra (mountainous) and Amazon jungle regions of Ecudador, and extended in May to 50 coastal schools.
   Other funders are the Organisation of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI), the National Financial Corporation (CFN) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Action.
   The basic idea behind the initiative is that as students learn new trades like dressmaking, beauty care, and carpentry at vocational institutes, they will work in microenterprises set up with the support of the school where they receive their training. The CFN will provide marketing studies to orient the new microenterprises and help guarantee their survival.
   The aim is to arm graduates with skills to immediately set up small or medium-size businesses when they graduate, said Dinepp Director, Rodrigo Astudillo. Since many students at vocational schools are illiterate, the microenterprise programme will also involve adult literacy classes. UNESCO and OEI, an inter-governmental organisation for cooperation, have contributed 40,000 dollars towards this effort.
   Astudillo pointed out that the programme is ''also a means to help eradicate illiteracy'' in Ecuador, where 12 percent of the population of 11.5 million does not know how to read and write. It has one of the highest illiteracy rates in Latin America.
   To qualify as a participant, schools must have adequate infrastructure and machines and other equipment in working condition, adequately trained staff and at least 100 students.
   The main reason for the shift to an approach focusing on microenterprise is that education in trade schools has lost its ties to the labour market and production, said Astudillo.
   Most of the 30,000 students who complete vocational school courses annually simply return to their homes or go on to other studies, rather than working in the trade they have spent three years training for, according to Dinepp statistics.
   One of the 50 schools selected for the first phase of the project is the Ana Mac Auliffe Vocational Centre, located in Ipiales, one of the capital city Quito's poorest neighbourhoods, with 260 students and 20 teachers.
   From September, the student dress-makers will start sewing uniforms, dresses, jackets and blouses for the Ecuadorean market.
   Another school that hopes to be accepted in the project is the Atahualpa Trilingual Educational Centre in Brisas del Estero, a poor area of Dur n, on the outskirts of Guayaquil.
   The Atahualpa Centre was founded by indigenous people who emigrated to the coast, and offers education in Spanish, Quechua and English. Although it is not an adult education centre, it hopes to be included and provide opportunities for its students to create their own jobs on graduating.
   Jos Valla, a teacher at the Atahualpa Centre, says the school is short of funds and its budget has shrunk because ''we are not supported by any state or private institution.''
   The students are Indian, Black and mixed-race. The staff who are all indigenous university graduates want to ''help improve society, and provide tuition-free education,'' said Valla.
   According to the Atahualpa Centre's principal, Manuel Cujilema, ''the aim of our school is to project the image that indigenous people can run their own small companies, and do not need to be alienated or marginalised.''
   Elsewhere, in the Casa Campesina (Peasant House) of Cayambe, north of Quito, 70 women set up small embroidery businesses 15 years ago after several of them graduated from trade schools.
   Today, the Casa Campesina provides training to those who have already set up their own microenterprises and to newcomers.
   In January, it opened workshops, admitting 24 young farmers aged 15 to 25 who are being trained as locksmiths, mechanics and carpenters, selling their wares as they learn. By March the school had also started teaching small farmers more advanced agricultural techniques.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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