Bringing teenagers back to school

26 February 2016
UPM Foundation in Uruguay

One of the UPM Foundation’s latest successes has been bringing 15-18 years old teenagers living in rural areas back into the educational system in Uruguay.

Due to lack of opportunities and long distances, some children living in the rural areas leave school at 12 years old. The early exit will weaken their opportunities to continue education later and makes it difficult for them to enter into professions that require a higher degree or special vocational training.

To tackle the problem, the UPM Foundation has launched several initiatives to improve the future prospects of these children. One of the latest examples is a project with the Technical University of Uruguay (UTU) to organise secondary level studies with an emphasis on mechatronics in Fray Bentos.

“We are organising a basic course that will prepare these young students for repairing and maintaining machines used in agriculture and forestry,” explains Rodolfo Merello, director responsible for regional technical education from UTU.

“In the first year they will concentrate on general subjects and then they will pursue more detailed technical studies during the second year. In addition to concluding the current course, we are also planning to organise a new course for the next generation in the coming year.”

The demand for technological and mechanical studies has expanded recently and public funding has not been able to follow the growing trend. “Therefore, these kinds of private sector initiatives to offer complimentary resources are very important in the field of education,” states Merello.

Planning the future

Alejandro Gonzales (18) is one of the young students taking part in the programme. The UPM Foundation has organised bus transportation that picks him up from his village every Monday morning and brings him back home on Friday. Students live in a campus in Fray Bentos during the weekdays.

“I am very content with the programme. We are studying in modules so after we have completed one course we can take another. We have several subjects like Spanish and mathematics but my favourite subjects to study are mechanics and electronics.”

Alejandro started his programme together with some 20 students in August 2015. His school days start at around 8 in the morning and he continues up to 3 in the afternoon. He will do his homework later and might take part in sporting activities or visit the city centre.

After completing his studies Alejandro is determined to find a job. “I am interested in working with everything that moves on four wheels. Preferably, I would like to gain employment at UPM,” he says.

Lobbying for education

Stakeholder and community engagement are focal elements of UPM’s responsibility agenda. The UPM Foundation acts as a facilitator and coordinator working together with local stakeholders, such as social organisations, public institutions and departmental and national authorities.

“Especially in this case, our work concentrated on communicating with the authorities to restructure the education for the needs of these youngsters,” explains Foundation Manager Magdalena Ibanez while discussing the project.

Normally, secondary level education takes three years to complete in Uruguay. The ministry of education had to approve a proposal to compress the three-year programme into two years. The more compact term will also ensure that the students will not abandon their studies before the graduation.

Providing tools and expertise

Furthermore, the UPM Foundation provides necessary tools through the practical training in the course. In the second phase there will also be technical experts like harvester operators from UPM working as teachers.

“Thanks to this opportunity, in the future these youngsters will be capable of finding well-paid, high-quality jobs in agriculture or forestry in their home region. Likewise, we as a business need a well-prepared workforce in rural areas where we have jobs to offer,” says Ibanez.

In principle, all the UPM Foundation actions are carried out to support the development and improve the wellbeing of the communities in long term.

“The interest in and attendance of the programme proves that when these kids do have a chance to study, they will take the opportunity. We are confident that education is the key element when aiming to develop communities in rural areas,” she emphasises.

 

Read a previously published article on UPM in Uruguay.

Vesa Puoskari

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