Team Belgium at work for SDG 4

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Rudi Veestraeten and William Carlos

Belgian Ambassador Rudi Veestraeten (right) symbolically hands over chairmanship of the Education Development Partners group to Irish Ambassador William Carlos.

Closing ranks in difficult times

The Education Development Partners (EDP) group in Uganda is a platform where donors and technical partners active in education hold discussions, collaborate and formulate recommendations on education issues. The platform serves as an advisory body to the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES). The government’s sector strategies, plans and policies and the EDP members’ projects and undertakings in general are scrutinised based on what they (could) mean for education – both in terms of access and quality.

Quality education

Education Development Partners members in Uganda

  • Bilateral partners: Belgium, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Sweden
  • Development agencies: Enabel, FCDO/UK Aid, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), USAID
  • International organisations: African Development Bank, European Union (DG ECHO), VVOB, World Bank

Every year, a different member takes up the chairmanship. The Belgian embassyVVOB – education for development and Enabel teamed up for the job from June 2020 to June 2021, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and global school closures. Learners in Uganda saw their education disrupted completely from March to October 2020. Schools then reopened partially grade by grade, only to shut down completely again – temporarily – in June 2021. Challenging times to say the least, but fellow EDP members applauded ‘Team Belgium’s’ leadership in discussions on the COVID-19 response.

Education Development Partners Group

1 year, 3 priorities

Diplomat Alexandre Brecx (left), deputy head of cooperation at the Belgian Embassy in Kampala, personified Team Belgium’s chairmanship: “The EDP group as a whole showed true leadership in supporting the Ministry of Education and Sports of Uganda in responding swiftly to the pandemic. Donors and implementers quickly aligned support and interventions. This played an important role in managing the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Learners have been – and still are – suffering from the short and long-term consequences of those school closures. The situation is extremely worrying. Results obtained during many years of development cooperation are at stake. At the same time, this crisis has brought development partners closer together. We have broadened our range of stakeholders and improved the coordination with the Ministry.”

Other than the necessary COVID-19 responses, Team Belgium also took the lead in the validation process of the Education and Sport Sector Analysis, and in discussions on the new Global Partnership for Education funding opportunities. Team Belgium’s star shines brightest, however, when it comes to the themes of skilling, teacher training and digitalisation, which were the chair’s three priority areas throughout its 1-year mandate.

On skilling and teacher training

Uganda and Belgium share an important ambition to prepare Uganda’s youth with tomorrow’s skills – and to attract and retain the education professionals that can realise this ambition. Uganda’s teacher workforce needs to expand to respond to the demographic bulge, and teachers need to be equipped with the right pedagogical skills to enable children and youth to thrive in their school and work careers.

To achieve this, highly ambitious curriculum innovations are the talk of the town: competence-based education, life skills, project work, entrepreneurship education, linking the education system with the world of work and digital literacy are all high on the agenda of MoES. Team Belgium has been supporting these innovations for many years through:

This last-mentioned multi-donor programme ‘Support to the implementation of the Skilling Uganda Strategy’ is co-funded by different EDP members – Belgium, Ireland, the EU and GIZ – for a total amount of 30 million euros. Belgium takes the lead with 22 million; Team Belgium designs solutions and weighs in on the policy dialogue to advance access to and quality of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Uganda. Since 2014, ‘Support to the implementation of the Skilling Uganda Strategy’ has initiated spearheaded solutions for both formal and non-formal access to certified skilling provision in response to the government’s 2012 TVET strategy, and the recently adopted TVET policy. The TVET Council is charged with the implementation of this policy and embraces a private sector-led approach to skilling, for which the project offers solutions.

Backing up this high involvement, Team Belgium chairs the EDP’s technical working group on Skilling through Enabel. The working group ensures that information on skilling smoothly flows to and from MoES, creates a platform for dialogue between the EDP members on Skilling and organises regular reviews and inputs for policy formulation. Other working groups are dedicated to Basic Education and Digitalisation.

“Team Belgium invests in quality pre-service and in-service teacher training, as well as the teacher training infrastructure”, explains VVOB Country Programmes Manager for Uganda Toon De Bruyn. “We pilot and scale solutions for equipping newly qualified secondary school teachers and instructors with the skills needed to prepare for the future.”

“VVOB is the only member that invests in the training of future TVET instructors in Uganda. We pilot solutions for enhanced work-based-learning, examination school practices, and the setting up of enterprises at the level of instructor and teacher training.”

On digitalisation

As chair, Team Belgium puts digitalisation firmly on the agenda, which has been crucial in supporting the ministry to put the policies on TVET and on teachers into practice. And although digitalisation has been an important priority for the Belgian Development Cooperation for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic was catalytic in increasing access to teaching and learning materials and online facilitation.

Enabel’s widely praised Teacher Training Education Sandbox is exemplary. The project experimented with EdTech aims to ensure the continuity of learning for student teachers while their teacher training colleges remained closed. Different subjects and e-learning courses using open and free digital tools were developed and rolled out. The project also focused on ensuring virtual communication between colleges and students, piloting new ways of online result-based management and improving 21st century skills of lecturers.

“We also established a peer-to-peer support system between lecturers from each of our partner colleges to function as a help desk”, details Virginie Hallet, education coordinator at Enabel. “We organised a whole series of practice sessions and ICT masterclasses too, showcasing new digital tools. And we were happy to discover in a study that our efforts paid off: almost 80 per cent of lecturers have used the portal with learning materials and 60 per cent relied on the help desk at some point, with nearly all finding it useful in facilitating e-learning.”

From Team Belgium to Team Europe

VVOB and Enabel’s collaborative efforts for teacher training, skilling and digitalisation in Uganda just begun: sharing a space at the MoES offices, supporting the yearly Teacher Instructor Education and Training Symposia, developing toolkits for active teaching and learning and for continuous professional development… are just a few of the initial joint initiatives. The unique expertise and privileged position that VVOB and Enabel bring to the Belgian development cooperation efforts make Team Belgium a strong and valued partner to the education sector in Uganda.

“And seeing the challenging times ahead we’re going to need this internal cohesion within Team Belgium, but also within the EDP group as a whole and externally with the Ministry”, Diplomat Brecx says. “Despite the hardships faced by the education sector, we got an unique opportunity to build back better, to rethink the education system and make it more resilient. Team Belgium’s chairmanship has been challenging, exciting and rewarding, all at the same time.”

Team Belgium will stay on as co-chair for the next six months in support of the incoming chair Ireland, a likeminded partner, and ensure that the initiatives of the past year continue to have a place on the agenda. “Hopefully, this spirit of collaboration will take us from ‘Team Belgium’ to ‘Team Europe’!” Alexandre Brecx concludes.

Belgian flag and European flag