Bridging the digital literacy & job skills gap for Nicaraguan youth

By Gretchen Robleto

August 21, 2018

LITTLE CORN ISLAND, Nicaragua – It’s the first day of class, and professor George Smith has his new students’ computers connected and ready to launch the online certification platform that will help prepare them to enter the formal workforce.

But as the 26 students take their seats in this community space on Little Corn Island off the Southern Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, Smith realizes he has two problems: Most of the students do not know how to navigate the internet, and few of them have email addresses to register for the course.

So Smith has to start with the basics.

“The first thing we teach these young people is how to use the computer, use the internet, enter and navigate the online course website and create an email account,” he says.

In the Southern Caribbean Coast region, 45 percent of school-age boys and 40 percent of girls are not in school. A quarter of all students are illiterate. Overall, only about an estimated 25 percent of Nicaraguans use the internet, and only about 11 percent of internet users are looking for educational resources.

Students gather for an online learning course on Little Corn Island. Photos by Gretchen Robleto.

The lack of education and the technical and digital skills gap are holding these youth back as employers increasingly value computer-savvy workers. Smith is helping local youth on this small island bridge that gap with his class, which uses technology to teach other in-demand job skills.

The online coursework Smith’s student are using was developed by the Aprendo y Emprendo project in partnership with the Carlos Slim Foundation’s Capacítate para el Empleo (Train Yourself for Work) program and a local hotel and restaurant that will provide hands-on training to the students.

The course guides students toward earning a certification in food and beverage management while also gaining life skills and financial and digital literacy.

Aprendo y Emprendo, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Creative Associates International, provided scholarships to the 26 students – nearly all are from the Creole ethnic minority and 18 are women. The group will complete 48 hours of online learning and 26 hours of practical experience.

Opening doors to learning online

Student Reynor Pineda Campbell, 19, says through the course he has been learning about innovation and customer service – a crucial skill in a local economy largely driven by tourism.

“I have learned to use the internet to study and to learn, and I recommend that other young people use it to prepare themselves for work,” he says. “The internet can help educate us and grow our knowledge.”

This course is one component of Aprendo y Emprendo’s overall effort to improve the quality and access of technical education and vocational training for at-risk youth in Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast region, which sees higher levels of poverty, violence and unemployment than the rest of the country. The program will not only provide 1,000 scholarships to youth, but is also working with training programs and education institutions to strengthen their course offerings, curricula and operations to the benefit of their students.

Annia Reyes logs on to the online learning course.

Coursework is tailored to the demands of potential employers, including both technical skills and soft skills that prepare students for careers.

Project Employability Specialist Luis Gerardo Bravo says that in addition to the food and beverage certification on Little Corn Island, other courses are in the works that utilize online platforms.

“At-risk youth will be receiving more opportunities for online training, including a new technical course in sales,” he says. “Technology is also used to promote scholarships, and WhatsApp groups are created for participants to interact, share their concerns and have questions answered.”

For student Annia Reyes, 23, Smith’s course is the first time she has explored the internet aside from social networks. Now, she plans to use her $2 weekly data plan on her cell phone to find other opportunities and continue learning.

“Once they explained how to use the online platform, it was easy,” she says. “Before, I only used the internet to be on social media. Now with the course, I’m preparing myself better for my future.”

With editing by Evelyn Rupert

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