EC visits telecentres in Brussels

On 6th February 2017, Rodrigo Ballester, member of the Cabinet of Commissioner for Education & Culture Tibor Navracsics, visited Interface3 and MAKS vzw – two Telecentre Europe member organisations in Brussels.

The purpose of the visit was to experience first-hand what telecentres do, what kind of trainings and services they offer to empower people in the digital world and help them acquire the necessary digital skills to have a better life. And he was not disappointed. In fact, on the contrary – he was inspired by the results of the trainings and the stories of the learners.

One of the areas Rodrigo is responsible for in Commissioner Navracsics’ Cabinet is the digital education and embracing new technologies to improve education in Europe.

We at the EC believe that digital education is not about throwing tablets in a classroom or only tackling the skills mismatch. Digital skills are like basic literacy, they are a powerful vector for social inclusion, a means to bring back people who are on the edge. And this is what you – telecentres – are best at, said Rodrigo at the beginning of the visit.

At Interface3, Rodrigo found out about their unique way of bridging the gender gap in ICT for the last 30 years directly from Laure Lemaire, Director of the centre. From orientation to a full-time training, unemployed women from various backgrounds are guided to find their new role in the labour market and in society. We were impressed by the numbers – 76% of Interface3 trainees find a job within 6 months, and in some of their training programmes this success rate is between 90-100%!

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After Laure’s presentation, and because this was mainly a field experience, Rodrigo met with the trainees in the classrooms of three on-going programmes – Game Developer, Bilingual Office Worker and the five-week long orientation programme for jobs in the ICT field. Some wanted to change career paths completely from a highly-saturated field or to get the ICT skills they miss to find a better job. Some were from migrant background and never worked in Belgium and some were stay-at-home mothers for many years. All of them needed an alternative learning path – one where they would feel comfortable asking questions and able to keep pace, one that will correspond to the specificities of their cultural backgrounds.

Then we moved to a different background – MAKS vzw has been working for the last 17 years in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Brussels – Cureghem – with 50% youth unemployment, more than 100 nationalities living together in this diverse and predominantly migrant area. But at MAKS they insist that children there are very talented in coding and that digital tools are a very successful way of engaging people from all ages in meaningful activities, motivating them to talk about their problems and look for solutions. MAKS vzw has a number of different faces – a telecentre, an employment and guidance service and a graphic design studio. Hence, the many different projects for social inclusion, digital literacy and employment. It was difficult to go through all of them in so little time, but Veronique De Leener, MAKS Director, presented us some highlights. Digital storytelling projects with prisoners, coding for migrant and refugee youngsters, multimedia and art projects with schools, to name a few.

We met with the students in the six-month training course for multimedia sellers in Dutch. One of the trainees said: “This course is great, because since the very beginning we have practical experience in a multimedia store. They gave us a badge and it was as if we were member of staff. Customers came to us and we had to help them.”

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We ended the visit with a discussion on how the European Commission, within its different programmes and initiatives can support us.

It matters so much for the EC to see the concrete situation on the ground, the impact we can have and the support we can give to states, but also to the civil society, concluded Rodrigo.