Online learning helps technical educators better serve Nicaraguan students

By Gretchen Robleto

September 21, 2017

MANAGUA, Nicaragua —Teachers at technical and vocational education and training centers across Nicaragua gather in a classroom for the day’s discussion. But in this course, the classroom is virtual – and today, the teachers are the students.

Seventy-eight teachers and administrators at 19 technical education institutions are participating in an online certification course to improve key management and strategic planning skills that can contribute to the success of their students and schools. It’s the first course of its type to be specifically tailored to professionals within the Nicaraguan technical and vocational education field.

Olga Marina Chow, a computer science instructor at the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, says the online certification has been a valuable and accessible resource for her and her colleagues who are scattered throughout the country.

“This learning experience has been very meaningful for me,” she says. “I’m expanding my knowledge in the classroom and applying everything that I have learned about leadership and management.”

The web-based platform and curriculum was developed by the Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-risk Youth project – known by its Spanish name “Aprendo y Emprendo” – which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International. The project awarded scholarships for the participants to take the online course, which Aprendo y Emprendo built in partnership with American University in Nicaragua with support from Creative’s Development Lab.

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Olga Marina Chow (center) with a student volleyball team from her university in Bilwi, Nicaragua. Photo by Jose Collado.

Equipping teachers to educate youth

Aprendo y Emprendo is aimed at increasing access to technical education and careers for youth on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, an isolated region with few education and economic opportunities.

In addition to providing 1,000 at-risk youth with scholarships to pursue technical education and vocational training, Aprendo y Emprendo is working to strengthen the quality, accessibility and sustainability of schools that provide technical and vocational courses.

Aprendo y Emprendo Chief of Party Rose Mary Garcia says that the training educators receive through the online course will help fortify technical training institutions around the country and in turn benefit youth.

 “For Aprendo y Emprendo to have a long-lasting impact, we must strengthen centers of learning so that they are equipped to educate the next generation of technical experts,” says Garcia. “The online certification will empower instructors and administrators to better plan for the future and reach at-risk students.”

The online certification is aimed at training participants so that they are better prepared to serve at-risk students and can make strategic plans for the future.

The project is focused on eight education institutions and is working closely with them to become “models” for the region. The online courses are also open to all members of the newly established Nicaraguan Network for Technical Education, which brings together educators and the private sector.

The certification program runs parallel to the project’s quantitative assessment, called the Organizational Capacity Assessment Tool for Technical Vocational Education and Training. The tool measures the performance of education institutions across seven key areas for success, such as financial management, human resources, organization and governance and is helping schools create improvement plans.

Early results show that the eight schools working directly with Aprendo y Empendo are already set to double their score after six months of intervention including the online certification, technical assistance and grants.

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Chief of Party Rose Mary Garcia formalizes Aprendo y Emprendo’s partnership with Universidad Americana President Ernesto Medina.

Commitment to improving education

For participants, the online certification is no easy A. The platform walks learners through three modules comprising 16 different courses over 10 months, wrapping up in April 2018.

And it goes well beyond online lessons and assignments. The “blended learning” course structure consists of a pre-recorded video by the facilitator, a live chat to discuss the content, a live webinar that is recorded and edited for participants who can’t attend and a general course forum. Students can also connect with instructors and peers via WhatsApp groups established by Creative’s Development Lab.

At the end of the course, participants will have the tools to put in place strategic plans for financial stability and sustainability, make improvements to human resources, branding and communications, and use updated monitoring and evaluation methods to inform decision-making.

The certification will also focus on putting students at the center of education, with an emphasis on personal and leadership development, entrepreneurship and gender inclusivity. With a positive youth development approach, Aprendo y Emprendo is working to create an educational environment that will allow youth to thrive on and off the job by building both technical and life skills.

Nuria Maltez, a technical training administrator, says the cooperative learning exercises in the course reflect real-life situations she would encounter through her work at the Center for Training and Integral Development.

“As a TVET manager, I have gained new knowledge and have put into practice my new abilities, especially those related to change management,” she says. “I now know how to … have better talent management, financial sustainability and marketing and branding knowledge.”

Editing by Evelyn Rupert

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