Businesses, youth talk tech and education in Nicaragua

By Evelyn Rupert and Gretchen Robleto

August 24, 2017

The president of Nicaragua’s largest private sector organization has a key entrepreneurial message to share with youth: Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you; make opportunities for yourself.

José Adán Aguerri, President of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, addressed a crowd of hundreds at a forum on education, technology, youth and careers on Aug. 18 at Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University in the South Caribbean Coast.

“You should keep in mind that in this moment in history in this region, the potential is enormous,” he said. “When you leave university, not everyone is going to have a job at a business – so you should think about creating your own businesses.”

The event was organized by Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-risk Youth project – better 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.

Aguerri said that as learning and technology become more intertwined, Nicaragua needs to modernize and explore new tools for learning to keep up.

Aprendo y Emprendo hosted the forum to spark teachers and youths’ interest in technology as a powerful force in education. The event brought together key groups like educators, organizations, private sector representatives and youth to discuss access, integration and quality of technology in education as an important piece of raising training and employment.

Engagement with private sector groups like the Superior Council of Private Enterprise is essential for achieving sustainable youth employment in the Caribbean Coast region, where minimal education, sparse businesses, limited labor demand and few entrepreneurship initiatives undermine youths’ ability to access decent jobs.

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José Adán Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise addresses youth at a forum on education and technology. Photos by Gretchen Robleto.

The need for access and digital competency in technical education

Aprendo y Emprendo strives to foster collaboration between the private sector, educational institutions and youth, building up lines of communication to ensure trainings are tailored so youth graduate with skills employers need in addition to entrepreneurial tools.

The forum presented an opportunity to bring such groups together in one place and dive into the ways in which technology can improve youth access to valuable education and skills. Digital literacy is something youth themselves see as important to their futures and lacking in their education, as 17-year-old high school student Anni explained at the event.

“My generation wants to know more about technology. As young people, we want to keep growing our knowledge,” she said. “We as youth expect and need more from teachers, we want to see technology as part of our educational plans in our classrooms,”

Private sector representatives and experts at the event stressed the importance of youth having access to the internet to be competitive in the job market and an increasingly digital world, adding that technology can be harnessed to improve education or access opportunity.

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The Bluefields Robotics Club holds a demonstration of a robot they programmed.

For example, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise unveiled a digital platform called Ubicanica, through which youth can search for internship opportunities with businesses and educational institutions.

The Bluefields’ Robotics Club gave youth a hands-on demonstration of how robotics can be used in education. Club members showed off their “perrobot” (dog robot), which performed different movements based on which color block it encountered. The Robotics Club was created with the support of Fundación Zamora Terán and telecommunications company Comtech – both private sector partners – Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University´s Innovation Laboratory and USAID through Aprendo y Emprendo.

Chad Cummins, Deputy Chief of Mission for USAID, said in his remarks at the event that programs like the robotics club foster an early interest in science and technology that can be an asset for individual youth and the region.

“The collaboration of the U.S. improves the quality of education, including with the use of technology,” he said. “We work with governments, communities and citizens to support politics and implement solutions that improve learning for children and youth.”

Technology as a powerful connector to education and employment

“My generation wants to know more about technology. As young people, we want to keep growing our knowledge”

Anni, high school student

A study conducted by Aprendo y Emprendo in 2016 found that nearly three-fourths of youth ages 14 to 29 in five Caribbean Coast municipalities know how to use the internet, and the vast majority are accessing the web on cell phones.

Reflecting on the event, Aprendo y Emprendo Chief of Party Rose Mary Garcia said employers should look to technology to connect with these youth, particularly those from more remote communities.“This forum is an example of how the private sector, universities and youth can articulate efforts and design joint strategies for the development of human capital with the skills demanded by a changing labor market,” she said. “Turning our focus to innovative approaches, we share the huge challenge of harnessing technology to create opportunities for hard-to-reach youth.”

In addition to its work strengthening vocational education centers and their connections with the private sector, Aprendo y Emprendo is giving 1,000 at-risk youth scholarships to pursue technical careers, in fields such as mechanics, industrial electricity, computer science, cable wiring and business administration. It is also helping to equip students with “soft skills” to help them succeed in any work environment.

Aguerri said he is optimistic about the future possibilities for youth in the Caribbean Coast, where jobs are often hard to come by and most youth only have three years of education.

“I want to thank in particular Aprendo y Emprendo, USAID and the U.S. Embassy for what they’re doing here,” Aguerri said. “We hope that soon you [youth] will see a different reality in this region.”

Gretchen Robleto reported from Bluefields, Nicaragua, and Evelyn Rupert from Washington, D.C.

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