Uwe Gartenschlaeger

Training for a Better Life – Vocational and Educational Training Projects in Countries in Transition

“Writing about turbulent times is one thing, living through them is an altogether less joyful experience”, is how one Soviet dissident summed up the attitude to life of a large majority of Eastern Europeans in the mid-1990s. The euphoria arising from newly-won freedoms and the optimism for the future felt at the end of the 1980s was soon replaced by the sobering realisation that for many people a hard struggle lay ahead if they were to be part of the “glorious new age”. Adults in particular, men more so than women, faced and indeed are still engaged in an uphill struggle to find the flexibility of mind necessary to face the new reality – and to establish themselves in the new order. A western European who has never had to experience any of this would find it very difficult to understand either the strength required or the sacrifices involved.

At DVV International it very soon became evident that adult education had a de cisive role to play in these historic transitional processes. Our motivation for taking on this challenge was two-fold:

  • The Deutsche Volkshochschul-Verband (DVV) (German Adult Education As sociation) had long had a tradition of good relations with its sister institutions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. These were respected members of the European adult education family, regardless of the differences of opinion that existed. Indeed, in the 1960s and 1970s, countries like Yugoslavia, with model systems and a high degree of innovation, were among the world’s leading nations in this regard.
  • DVV International was and continues to be supported by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) within the context of social structure development. This development tool

“became an important instrument in development policy, intended to satisfy basic needs, combat poverty and the institutional work involved. The development of social structure benefits the majority of society in individual countries. Minorities and marginal groups are included in this development.” The focus is on “combating poverty and impoverishment as well as the consequences they have for health, nutrition, social issues, education, housing and political participation.”1

All this applied to the countries in transition in Eastern Europe.

Since the end of the 1980s, DVV International has therefore been working with partners in adult education in countries in transition on the difficult task of adapting to new circumstances. A number of challenges present themselves:

  • Traditional organisations that for decades had been subject to a state-directed system had to learn to survive under the new and extremely tough conditions of the deregulated market economy, especially in the initial phase, without any or only very limited public support.
  • New predominantly social institutions quickly had to learn to cope in the jungle of national politics, a deregulated market and the conditions set by international sponsors.
  • Alongside daily survival it was a case of meeting demand with supply, taking on teaching staff, training and motivating them to prepare for constantly new state regulations and to survive in uncertain legal contexts, reacting to at times rapidly changing market trends, and much more. The list goes on and on.

While this proved very successful for the small new elite and an insubstantial mid dle class, it was more difficult to generate adequate provision for the vast majority of the population. It very quickly became evident that alongside the rather limited demand for political, cultural and health education, the bulk of the population was seeking opportunities in the vocational sector, be this training, continuing education or retraining. Who needed people with antiquated training from socialist times, bookkeepers lacking data-processing skills or mechanics unable to repair the western cars streaming into the country? In addition to this were the many young poorly-trained graduates, products of post-socialist education systems, who were coming ill-prepared onto the labour market.

Vocational training in Tajikistan


Vocational training in Tajikistan
Source: DVV International


Today the situation in former socialist countries is very different. Many states have become members of the European Union, where adult education and lifelong learning occupy a central place, a fact confirmed by the Commission’s recent bulletin titled “It is never too late to learn”, as well as the action plan described in “It’s always a good time to learn”.2 Both documents stress the importance of employment-related adult education, something that applies in full measure to Central Eastern Europe. It remains to be seen to what extent national policies are in line with regulations and recommendations coming out of Brussels. Discussions with our partners in the accession countries provide reasons for scepticism. The situation outside the EU is much more critical. Despite many efforts being made, most governments still fail to acknowledge the importance of lifelong learning for the social, innovative and balanced development of their countries. The quality of school and vocational education often goes down in parallel with this, and even where the political will does exist, the essential and considerable resources required do not. In the medium term, vocational and general adult education are able to compensate for this in many areas but this can only be affordable if support is in place. In the meantime, a growing number of players are working alongside DVV International in the field of development, which has long been seriously neglected and taken second place to basic education. One of the few exceptions in this respect is the European Training Foundation (ETF), an EU institution that for many years has been providing valuable, conceptual support in both extending and reshaping adult education.3

Short History of DVV International’s Work

At the end of the 1980s, DVV International, with the support of the BMZ, took up project activities in transitional countries. Poland and Hungary, and later Romania, Russia and Ukraine, were the first. From the very beginning, vocational adult education was at the centre of the work, especially in Russia and the Ukraine. A network of IT training centres, occasionally sponsored within the framework of an EU project, was set up in the Russian Federation in 1993. This was later expanded to include a pan-Russian IT certification system.4 Our contribution covered the training of teachers, donations of equipment to furnish computer classes, especially at the start, and the provision of expertise and financial support in countrywide examination centres. Today this system is self-sufficient and DVV International has been able to phase out its support.

The Regen adult education centre in Germany looked after the IMPULS training centre in Skole rural district near Lviv (Ukraine), helping to set it up and giving it long-term support. The Skole centre has since impressively turned into the heart of a local cooperation network of sponsors and supporters of adult education. Today IMPULS offers a range of vocational training in construction, clerical skills and service provision, of particular benefit to the unemployed. In doing so, the centre has become an important partner to the local labour office. In close agreement with the district’s town councils, the centre contributes to village development in many ways, for example, by encouraging agri-tourism and offering training courses to workers at small farms. Alongside this, IMPULS has taken on the role of facilitator and works toward getting various actors together in discussion circles, working groups and seminars, helping those involved to find common solutions to problems. Public events, training fairs, and exhibitions are supposed to make the population and local decision-makers more aware of the relevance of adult education.

Vocational training was also at the heart of activities set up and expanded in south-eastern Europe. In particular, a very successful project in Albania focused for a long time on supporting the training centre for the unemployed run by the Albanian labour ministry. To start, donations of equipment were combined with teaching training and assistance in developing modern curricula. After the worst of the crisis was over at the end of the 1990s, cooperation shifted more towards helping set up an integrated system for training the unemployed. Here, for the first time, cooperation with agencies from Switzerland and Austria, for example, worked very well in further developing this sub-sector.

The Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe allowed DVV International to become active in the entire region as of 1999. Projects for adult vocational training became an important share of nearly all national programmes. “Second-chance” options opened up in Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, enabling disadvantaged and marginalised populations such as the Roma to gain school-leaving certificates and vocational qualifications. The approach taken here was to look after the educa tional needs of these very disadvantaged groups of society. Many did not have any formal vocational qualifications, which, coupled with a high degree of social discrimination, made entering the job market almost impossible. Added to that, many did not have school-leaving certificates and were not entirely literate. Projects attempted in many ways to help those affected, for example by combining literacy courses with (attractive) vocational training programmes and support from the social services. Here it was important to work together with Roma organisations, for example, to lower barriers to the majority society.

The project in south-eastern Europe was intended as a regional one from the very beginning. This made it particularly suitable for taking the risk of introducing European certification systems, for example in IT and business areas. Systems devel oped by German adult education centres and other supporting organisations were successfully installed. This was in response to the demand apparent throughout the entire region for certification and qualifications recognised throughout Europe, a demand based on the high vocational mobility found within the European Union.

Projects in the republics of South Caucasus started up in 2002. The need for vocational qualification was enormous here too. Work focused on supporting cur riculum development, teacher training, the preparation of specific textbooks and study kits, and pilot projects in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In all three republics, it became clear over time that political consultation and support were a common focus of the work. Here much had to be done to persuade authorities of the importance of adult vocational education, a need often more clearly seen by colleagues in the ministries for labour and social services than in the ministries for education. The umbrella associations founded in all three republics with the help of DVV International were gradually able to voice the interests of adult education and (together with our project offices) be recognised as facilitators in the process of improving the conditions needed for adult education. Here such classic activities as model pilot projects, roundtable talks and conferences played an important role, as did adult education days and festivals. These were very successful in Armenia in particular, where they were managed by a broad alliance of different support ing organisations.

Additionally, an idea which first arose in Georgia within the framework of another project supported by the EU was successfully adopted more and more. It was based on acknowledging that traditional adult education facilities in the past decade had been largely destroyed, making it necessary to build new centres. The decision was taken to thereby apply the widest possible approach and include the vocational aspect of adult education as well as many facets of general adult learning. The idea was first successfully implemented in a region where a minority of Armenians lived in Georgia. This area is characterised by high unemployment, a notable trend of workers migrating, mostly to Russia, and the consequent social tension exacerbated by the problem of Armenians being an ethnic minority. To gether with two Georgian partners, two adult education centres were set up in the cities of Akhalkalaki and Akhalzikhe that combine vocational programmes with language courses (Georgian), legal counselling and general adult education. Since then a similar project has started up in Armenia itself, and another with a similar approach is planned for the southern parts of Azerbaijan.

In 2005, it finally became possible to start an intensive work project in Central Asia. The approach used here centres on using adult education to lessen social tension in a society that is increasingly being shaped by impoverishment and a lack of prospects, both giving rise to radicalism. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, a method was pursued that advocated civil society approaches and initiatives to identify potential. In a second step, the successful results of these initiatives were, and still are, discussed with the state institutions and ministries responsible to support their adoption at the systematic level.

In Kyrgyzstan we were able to fall back on an existing, relatively professional network of about 15 adult education centres in the country’s most important cities; this had been set up by a Danish partner together with the Kyrgyz federation of trade unions. In dialogue with these centres, it was possible to expand their range of vocational training to include programmes that were heavily in demand and relevant to the job market, so that a number of the centres today are important partners for local labour administrations, businesses and state-run educational institutions. The administration of two EU projects enabled a network to be set up with social partners, employers and the state administration in particular, and organised mobile facilities for the rural population.

Tajikistan is heavily dependent on sending a workforce abroad. About one million of Tajikistan’s population of more than six million people seek work each year on the Russian or Kazakh job market, a situation that is far more dramatic than that for Armenia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.5 Together with the NGO ASTI, model programmes for job training were initially made available to migrants in the north of the country, who usually return home during the winter months. These measures are consciously geared to meet needs on the Russian job market and are based on the conviction that migration will continue to be a crucial factor in Tajik society in the short and medium term. This plan successfully integrated into the training ses sions information on the rights and duties of migrants in the host country, utilising material from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Vocational training in Kyrgyzstan


Vocational training in Kyrgyzstan
Source: DVV International


In the end, the sustainable success of model projects depends on whether the experience gained can be integrated into the educational system, that is to say, into the state sector. NGOs and other civil society actors can take on the role of pioneers and be in the vanguard, trying out new and innovative approaches and communicating the results in a dialogue with state institutions. This worked unusually well in Tajikistan thanks to the openness, found es pecially in the ministry for labour and social security, in accepting the idea of adult vocational training. The ministry, DVV International and the German De velopment Service (DED) reached an agreement in a three-page contract which saw to an expert from DED supporting the ministry in launching demand-based programmes for adult edu cation and providing ad vice for setting up organi sational structures. The min istry now has a Centre for Adult Learning that serves as a resource and training centre to support growth in this sector; it also has branches in the region. It is remarkable that this centre has even made rooms avail able to NGOs. Next to DVV International and DED, the EU’s European Training Foundation (ETF) has also contributed to this success.

Since early 2008, DVV International has been advising the Tajikistan ministry of education within the framework of an EU project in a process of reforming voca tional education. That the European Union has entrusted such a mission to dvv international is proof of its newly won regional and professional expertise. Know-how in adult education is needed in many places, for example when integrating basic training with further education, training teachers, or designing modular courses of training in areas of high demand. Introducing new approaches in curriculum development, training teachers, and advising decision-makers in the ministry are at the heart of the work. In 2006 –07, the education ministry took over the voca tional education sector from the ministry for labour. On one hand, this strengthened competencies in general education, but on the other hand, it created considerable problems in the understanding of modern, job market-oriented vocational educa tion. The concept of centrally steered education still dominates over the idea of flexible, demand-oriented training programmes. There is gradual realisation that vocational schools, with all of their problems (low prestige, poor equipment, inad equately qualified teachers) will not have a future unless they are responsive to the learning needs of the population – not just young people. Initial steps have been taken, and the education ministry has issued an ordinance enabling institutions to offer training courses of several months’ duration to the adult population.

In contrast, cooperation with state partners was sought from the very beginning in Uzbekistan, especially because of other prevailing political conditions. Next to Belarus, Uzbekistan is the only successor state of the Soviet Union that places high value on vocational education.6 A controversial reform in education instituted compulsory vocational education for pupils completing their basic schooling, and sizable amounts of Uzbek and foreign money were invested in building and equip ping the now more than 1,000 vocational colleges. There are still problems with designing demand-oriented training courses, paying and qualifying the teachers, and networking with actors on the job market. DVV International’s approach is to use the existing good infrastructure to offer training of several months’ duration to adults, especially unemployed young people, during afternoons and evenings at the vocational schools. Initially, pilot colleges were selected at which six-month training courses were developed for training in construction, clerical skills and service provision. But it soon became clear that teachers lacked the didactic abil ity to work with adults and there were no methods installed for recognising local needs and designing applicable courses. The training needed by teachers on di dactic issues could be basically provided by local trainers, often from civil society organisations. Fortunately, the ETF and a GTZ (German technical cooperation) project could be won over as partners in developing simple methods to survey the local job market. In the end, an internationally recognised method for developing curricula (DACUM – Develop a Curriculum), with the help of the German Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB), was successfully adopted. This long time work, additionally sponsored by the EU, has led to the founding of more than 20 adult education centres in Uzbek vocational colleges. The founding of an adult education association is also in store.

There is now some thought being given at the institute on expanding the commitment in Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, in which adult vocational training will certainly take an important role.

The Outlook

The short overview makes it clear that countries in this region, due to vastly differing preconditions, have coped with transition in very different ways in the past decade within their own cultural, political, economic and social frameworks. The West’s vista of a monolithic Eastern Bloc was wrong from the start, and highly in contrast to the region’s appearance today in its immense diversity.

Nevertheless, some lines of development can perhaps be pointed out that will deal with vocational education one way or another in coming years:

  • Vocational education and especially continuing vocational training are still the “poor cousins” of educational policy. They lack personnel and financial resources, and important political framework conditions are usually missing. This is absurd in face of the enormous significance of this sector for social development and civil peace. It will be our task to support partners in their efforts to gain recognition and be persuasive at the policy-making level.
  • Negative stereotypes are there not only in politics. For many people, voca tional education is still something for disadvantaged population groups, a catch basin for “losers”. The non-clerical vocations have a particularly poor reputation, and parents do all they can to enable their children to go on to university, even when it makes little sense. Here too, adult education should be used as a resource for raising awareness through educational counselling, family education and career guidance measures.
  • A special target group for adult vocational education will continue to be the socially disadvantaged populations, often congruent with ethnic minorities. Here vocational training combined with courses of political, linguistic and cultural interest can contribute to the inclusion of these groups as equal and respected members of society.
  • Nearly all countries in this region are affected by migration, nearly all of it motivated by the desire to find (better paying) work. General adult education certainly faces an enormous challenge, for instance in the battle against racism and xenophobia, in assisting migrants with the adaptations expected of them in the host country, and in creating learning courses for the families left behind. But adult vocational training centres are also called on to offer programmes that meet the needs of the work situation in host countries and improve the quality of school-leaving certificates so that they meet standards set in host countries.
  • This takes on another aspect for those countries that border on the EU or whose political development is linked to, at the very least, close cooperation with the EU – all of them face the challenge of adapting their vocational education systems to the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and devel oping compatible national qualification frameworks. In this connection, adequately integrating continuing education with its specifications will be another thoroughly complex task for the next years.
  • The consequences of the current financial crisis cannot be assessed yet. States in Eastern Europe will be much harder hit because they have fewer resources and their social security systems are not as developed. It is difficult to guess what this will mean for adult vocational training altogether and contingent needs for vocational qualifications.

Vocational training in Uzbekistan


Vocational training in Uzbekistan
Source: DVV International


With its decision at the end of the 1980s to expand its commitment beyond Africa, Asia and Latin America and support partners in Eastern Europe and CIS during their processes of transition, DVV International reacted to an apparent and large need. Pursuing its tradition of working with partners and responding to need, most activities concentrated on adult vocational education. This volume is supposed to make clear which models have an effect, what was achieved, and what road still lies ahead for us.

We are very grateful to the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Union and the German Foreign Office for their support and understanding. Equally important were and are the many partners in the state and in civil society in our partner countries who were and are the major actors in project work, and whose voices take centre stage here.


1 Quote from the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialstruktur (Social Improvement Network) website: www.sozialstruktur.org
2 Both documents are on the European Adult Education Association (EAEA) website: www.eaea.org
3 The ETF website (www.etf.europa.eu) provides a good overview of the variety of activities and
publishes valuable studies and background documents.
4 For more information (in Russian), go to the network website: www.znanie.net
5 The financial crisis which began in 2008 has hit with full force. The consequences are not yet fully foreseeable, but reports from the region note a strong rise in social tensions.
6 Other states, especially Russia and Kazakhstan, now realise that it was a mistake to let this sub-sector largely bleed to death and thus get into a situation in which a glaring lack of skilled labour is paired with an enormous surplus of academicians.


Adult Education and Development


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