Strengthening the System, Part One

This is the fourth in a series of posts on designing innovative education solutions in Sudan, based on a mission that took place from September 3 to 23, and ongoing work. This series is by Panthea Lee, a consultant for UNICEF and principal at the service design firm Reboot. Some of the earlier posts are being published retroactively, partly due to the poor internet connectivity while the team was in country.

One challenge faced by all large development organizations, UNICEF included, is that other, small organizations often think you have the resources to help make their projects happen. While this is sometimes the case, such thinking ignores the wisdom and expertise these seasoned organizations can bring to bear on projects themselves.

In this current project in Sudan, we are focused on strengthening the education system in a holistic way, and from a myriad of angles. Education projects often focus exclusively on children, but the service providers (government and partners) and the agents delivering the service (teachers) are equally important for a well-functioning system. To that end, we have three areas of focus in Sudan. This post will discuss the first one, and then in subsequent posts I will discuss the other two.

1. Relevant Education and Skills Training for Children

We explore how we can help marginalized children and youth gain the basic knowledge and practical skills they need to thrive, whether that is through reintegrating out-of-school children into the formal schooling system or helping unemployed youth get a stable, rewarding job.

Currently, many of the skills youth learn through development programmes are practical (e.g. sewing), but without high market demand. We need to train children on the skills of the future (e.g. technical skills, such as computer programming) that can lead to tangible, attractive job opportunities and improved futures.

There are many examples of UNICEF projects in this vein, including a youth training programme in Palestine in 2010. Through Souktel, a Palestinian NGO, youth were taught basic computer programming skills and launched the first open-source software community in the country. Their skills have proved valuable, as other NGOs (such as Teachers Without Borders) now approach their talent pool for programmers to support their work.

Skills training is also a great way to bring together the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Take UNICEF Kosovo’s Innovation Lab. The Lab’s inaugural activities centered around technology training for youth in Pristina, sponsored by local businesses interested in fostering skills they could benefit from. The Lab has since partnered with the national Ministry of Health – the Lab provides technical support for the Ministry’s needs, and the Ministry entrusts the youth with meaningful projects and provides a staff member to sit in the Lab and direct them in building data and monitoring systems. The Lab adds much-needed technical capacity to the Ministry and provides eager, ambitious youth with good work.

There seems to be interest in a similar model here in Sudan — there is certainly demand from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Communications and IT — so we are exploring the idea of how a Lab here may be structured and run, and what a proof of concept might look like. More to come!


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