Although it is proven time and time again that quality vocational education can equip boys and girls with a range of much needed technical, practical and soft skills to thrive in the word of work, the prospect of a vocational profession is not yet considered attractive by the Albanian society. The public often neglects to see the link between our reliance to technology and the exceptional range of professionals needed to maintain and develop it.
That’s why, despite some positive trends in recent years, still only one in five youngsters chooses a vocational school in Albania. Parents and youngsters lack information about the programs in offer, career opportunities and salary ranges related to vocational professions equally fit to men and women. It is unfortunate that many young girls and their parents seem to associate vocational education with boys and “traditionally” male professions requiring arduous efforts in harsh environments supposedly not suitable to female body and psyche. This perception is based also on the existing VET programs offer which is heavy on professions not at all appealing to girls. That’s why, currently only 15% of vocational education students are girls or about 3000 girls out of 19000 students.)
How does one change this mindset and bring more girls in vocational education? Due to investments in school staff and life, curricula, infrastructure & equipment, and business relations Skills for Jobs (S4J) managed to increase enrolment of girls in the schools the project supports from 14.1% (2016) to 18% (2017). As the schools improved, we realised that we needed to make sure we get this message across to the right people.
S4J team took to the sales and marketing literature to understand what the best approach would be to help change a mindset that has been in a society for decades. “Meet Every Girl” was designed as a door to door outreach campaign targeting 9th grade girls and their parents -who are often the ones who decide.
Starting from mid-February, teachers and S4J team members visited all elementary schools in towns and villages, 85 to be exact, within an access distance to vocational schools in the towns of Berat, Lezha, Shkodra and Vlora. When possible accompanied by female students who already study in these schools, teachers and our team met with all 9th grade girls (2,732 of them) in groups of 10-15.
They were informed about the offer and the numerous advantages of studying in the transformed Swiss-supported vocational schools that partner closely with leading private sector companies. A user-friendly leaflet that speaks teens’ language, presentations in power point with state-of-the-art classroom images followed by an informal questions-answers session, ensured a good starting point. We still keep regular contacts with these girls through social media to maintain momentum.
The meetings with the 9th graders were extremely mind-opening. Many of the 2,732 girls had never heard about or seen a vocational school. It was mindboggling to hear misconceptions such as “only bad students go to vocational schools”, …” theoretical subjects are not explained well there”., “you cannot continue university studies afterwards”, … “I don’t want to become a plumber” … etc.
Next step was to reach out to parents. Meetings with these girls’ parents focused on quality education and economic perspective of VET programs and how VET makes girls more mature and self-confident due to work-based learning. In this process, working closely with primary school directors to reach to the parents was crucial. Parents’ days helped us reach to about 500 parents. Main goal? Get to convince the parents to come with their daughters to visit the respective schools during one of the open days.
Yes, we supported schools to organize open days during which girls and parents could see for themselves the modern infrastructure, the friendly and qualified staff, the cool female students who shared their experiences about the school life, apprenticeships and extracurricular activities. Private companies played a central role in explaining how they cooperate with the schools and how ready they are to host them in their companies as apprentices and afterwards possibly hire them. The campaign was complimented with some very nice TV spots and social media posts.
The campaign was a wonderful opportunity to first set the record straight and convince girls to choose a VET program with employment perspective in a Swiss-supported school. At the same time, it helped the schools improve their promotional products and events, create a winning script targeting parents and future students, and strengthen the engagement of the schools Gender Contact Points, who are just adjusting to this new role.
And indeed, the good news came already at the peak of the campaign, when we got the first pledges of girls interested to enrol in vocational schools. A concerned parent was asking ‘Hamdi Bushati’ school Career Centre staff whether … “there are still spots left for registration for my daughter”. In Lezha, although the enrolment process had not officially started at “Kolin Gjoka” school, 2 girls applied in the hospitality-tourism program already in June. Seeing how eager they were to start their 10th grade, we facilitated for them a job-shadowing experience with Chef Alfred Marku – one of the most famous chefs in the region. Needless to say, the look on their faces was priceless. We asked them to share their excitement with their peers to help the school send out the message.
On September 3rd, all schools in Albania started officially the registration process. Our partner schools by now have registered 492 students (capacity 1045), of which 132 are girls. We are excited that 27% of those registered are girls, nine percentage points up from last academic year. However, our partners need to make sure to keep this rate of girls’ enrolment. The campaign continues with the last outreach activities. A fashion design open-air corner in Shkodra, a concert in Vlora, TV spots, guerrilla marketing to distribute leaflets, social media posts hopefully will help these schools to reach a bit of a stretch goal of 30% girls. We will keep you posted.
“Meet every Girl” campaign is only part of the S4J efforts towards the gender emancipation of the Swiss-supported schools. Improving school amenities with infrastructure investments, hands-on training of Gender Contact Points to put in practice a school action plan, disseminating inclusive teaching methods as part of the new ways, celebrating positive role models for girls in curricular and extracurricular activities, and deliver gender-equal communication messages all contribute to a new reality in vocational schools.