Central Asia: It’s time to… discover the world of skills

With the launch, last November, of the European Union’s first-ever skills and training development project for Central Asia – DARYA (Dialogue and Action for Resourceful Youth in Central Asia) – improving the match between education and the labour market in the region will be under the spotlight in the coming years.

This week’s ETF LearningConnects livestream invited speakers from Central Asia – and the ETF – to discuss opportunities for improving skills training in the region.

The Russian-language event, which was streamed live on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and the social media platforms of EU delegations in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, looked at how authorities and civic organisations in Central Asia intended to take advantage of DARYA.

Utkirjon Alijonov, Head of the Department for the Coordination of the Organization of the Educational Process, Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation of Uzbekistan, noted that although the country had a strong network of more than 700 professional technical training schools, which young people could access from the ninth grade, ‘most young people want to enter higher education.’

Public perceptions that see skills training as less desirable than further academic studies are common across Central Asia. However, Uzbekistan is already tackling this, with a project backed by Germany’s international aid agency, GIZ, designed to support students in choosing professional education, Alijonov said.

‘We also need to work more with enterprises, with private businesses, with employers to help us prepare new cadres of trained workers,’ Alijonov added. ‘The private sector offers significant prospects for improving training and skills. We have already introduced dual education in a large number of colleges, but we need to expand this system.’

Uzbekistan had also started work, two years ago, on improving its national qualifications system – one of the aims of DARYA, which will seek to harmonise qualifications across Central Asia to make them more flexible and transferable across national boundaries.

Christine Hemschemeier, ETF Senior Human Capital Development Expert, and Country Liaison for Kazakhstan, said that DARYA aimed ‘to improve the quality of professional education and training, and to increase inclusivity in the system’.

It would start, she said, with improvements in the ‘collection of accurate data to better understand precisely what skills are in demand by the labour market in Central Asia’. Progress would be impossible without accurate statistics, and input would be sought from all those involved in supporting young people, including government authorities, civil agencies, employers and NGOs, she added.

DARYA would also ‘support the design and implementation of national and regional qualifications networks to improve flexibility within the wider Central Asia region’, and share practical experience from the EU, and local partners, to help in the reforms the project is supporting.

Dilbar Bakayeva, a partner of the Adult Education Association of Tajikistan, said that many working in education and training had high hopes for DARYA.

‘We really hope that this can help us improve our system of professional standards. And that it can help us improve the material base of our technical training offering.’

Practical experience from other countries could help in closing the gap between the best technical schools and those performing at a lower level, she added.

Tajikistan has been working to improve its network of public and private training centres for some years already, and has programmes to support, for example, girls, women, those living in remote areas and other disadvantaged groups.

‘Interest in such training programmes among the adult population is growing,’ she added.

Statistics showed that in 2021 alone, around 30,000 people took advantage of training programmes via official adult education centres, although there were currently no figures for those in private training.

Alijonov added that in Uzbekistan there were opportunities for distance learning, and special quotas for state grants to encourage women to take up professional training.

Hemschemeier emphasised that DARYA would work with the strategic aims of the Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – and that the way to do that was to forge ‘strong and inclusive partnerships’ with stakeholders.

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