Helvetas works on projects worldwide to ensure that children and young people in low- and middle-income countries have access to high quality education. In doing so, Helvetas uses the potential of digitalization and tests various digital solutions to achieve more impact. In Myanmar, various vocational training courses have been digitized and are helping to ensure access to education, especially during the overlapping political and Covid-19 crises.
Khaing Wai Lwin, age 18, grew up in a poor family as the daughter of a single mother and with three siblings in Magway region, located in northwest Myanmar. Since there was a school close to where she lived she was able to attend primary school, which is not a given in Myanmar, especially in rural areas. She would have liked to attend secondary school, but her mother could not afford it. Instead, she had to take care of her three younger siblings. Later on, she worked as a day laborer in agriculture to support the family financially.
When Khaing heard about Helvetas’ Skills for Employment vocational training project, she seized the opportunity to train as a motorcycle mechanic. This project trains disadvantaged young people in various professions and then supports them in finding a job or starting their own business. The project also encourages women like Khaing to enroll for “non-traditional jobs” to contribute to breaking gender barriers.
Annual tracer studies have shown that in recent years, more than 80% of graduates have found employment or self-employment. This includes Khaing, who opened her own motorcycle workshop after completing her training. Khaing learned about self-employment in the company where she did her training, as well as through digital courses on accounting, entrepreneurship and general skills such as communication and customer service.
Factors that helped this project be successful include digitization of courses and strong collaboration with the private sector. Together with a technical partner, Zabai, the project has digitized courses for three professions: hair and facial treatment, motorcycle repair and tailoring. Learners also have access to other complementary courses such as life skills and employability, personal development, beginner English, digital literacy and entrepreneurship; participants can complete these at their own pace. These courses are embedded in a digital learning management system that allows teachers and trainers to interact with learners, monitor their progress and upload course materials.
Advantages of digital learning
Helvetas Myanmar promotes a blended learning approach that combines digital and practical learning. Learners are taught theoretical basics online before putting their knowledge into practice in small enterprises. The digital courses employ a variety of learning methods, including animations, videos, quizzes and gamification elements. These interactive elements increase learners' motivation and are tailored to their needs. The courses rely heavily on animation because the literacy rate of many young people in the project region is low. Surveys have shown that women in particular appreciate digital courses because they are not tied to a time and physical location; this allows them to acquire knowledge flexibly and at their own pace, and to combine their learning with their caregiving responsibilities.
Access to cell phones in the project region is very high. One challenge, however, is the quality of the internet connection in the area, which has deteriorated, especially since the change of power in February 2021. The project works with mobile servers that allow the courses to be downloaded and then completed offline, reducing the barrier for learners that don’t have reliable internet access. Another advantage of digital learning is that it is scalable, meaning that more young people can be reached. There are 780 students currently enrolled in the courses, and this figure is growing rapidly.
Ei Phyo Zan is a recent graduate of the hair and facial treatment training at the Style Thit Beauty salon. This is a small company in Minbu Township which offers on-the-job training for youth on tools, equipment and hair cutting techniques. In addition to this practical training, Ei also participated in online courses where she learned more theoretical topics such as personal development, soft skills and entrepreneurship courses. She likes the flexibility of the courses and the fact that she can learn at her own pace. She is also happy that access to a portable server in her area allows her to participate in digital training without internet connectivity. Ei recommends digital learning courses to all young men and women in Myanmar, who she believes could learn new skills during time typically spent on social media.
The path to digital learning
Helvetas digital tools are based on the nine Principles for Digital Development. These basic principles include considering issues of data security, scaling and sustainability. Another critical element is understanding the needs and expectations of youth (users) as well as the existing ecosystem. A user assessment was conducted at the start of the project, which analyzed the needs of the target group as well as the context, interests and expectations of different stakeholders. The user assessment also looked at questions around digital access, digital literacy, type of devices, mobile phone and internet usage, digital behavior and prior experience with e-learning courses. Based on the answers of around 170 respondents, the courses were digitized and a custom Learning Management System was established. After the development phase, the courses were tested by project participants in an iterative process, continuously gathering and incorporating feedback, and making adjustments to correspond to user needs.
Different business models have also been explored in Myanmar to ensure that the courses will be financed beyond the end of the project. In addition to financing, it is important to create local ownership. Some trainers were initially skeptical about digital courses. Often, they did not have the necessary digital skills to work with digital tools. Many also feared that their roles would be replaced by the digital courses. In addition to offering skills training, it was important for the project to show their new role in the blended learning approach and to involve them in the course development process. Learners, teachers and trainers all benefit from the improvement of digital competences, which are increasingly demanded by labor markets.
Learning from these experiences
The demand for digital learning is growing in many areas around the world. During the Covid-19 pandemic, schools in many countries were closed for a year or more. Digital courses offer a way to continue education and bridge educational gaps. In most low- and middle-income countries, young people have been the most vulnerable to job loss and poverty as a result of the pandemic, since they often work in the informal sector without social protection. Projects such as "Skills for Employment" in Myanmar offer them a perspective in life and an opportunity to generate an income.
Even after the pandemic, Helvetas will continue to focus on digital learning. These courses offer enormous potential, especially in fragile contexts where children and young people have no access to training opportunities. In addition, more and more companies in our partner countries are interested in digital courses, for example to train their existing employees in new topics for upskilling. These are motivating drivers to scale our digital solutions, and Helvetas is planning to replicate this training experience in other countries such as Ethiopia and Bangladesh.