Expanding future options for youth in Turkey through vocational education
Eliminating child labour and keeping children in education require multiple pathways and options for relevant and appropriate learning which are responsive to the situation of each child and family.
While economic pressures, academic dissatisfaction, and academic failure force children to forgo schooling and enter the labour market, some children, such as the refugee children, also turn to child labour as a response to marginalization.
Eliminating child labour and keeping children in a form of education require multiple options and pathways which are responsive to needs of different children and families. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is one such option. A high-quality and pedagogically sound TVET and apprenticeship system, where workplaces adopt strong business principles in line with child rights, can be viable route for adolescents to stay in education and be supported to gain vocational skills. TVET can provide opportunities to youth who are at risk of child labour and drop-out of education to learn and be prepared for the future through vocational skills that are certified and transferable.
(Above): A student works on a car engine during a vocational education class, at a Vocational Education Center (VEC) in Adana, Turkey. Around 1700 students - including the ones working at the shops and factories - attend this center and they can choose from 142 occupations, from esthetician to carpenter, to focus on.
In Turkey, compulsory education is 12 years. Once they complete Grade 8 (lower-secondary education) children can choose from one of the two options: They can either continue academic education at a high school or switch to vocational education at a Vocational High-school (VHS) or Vocational Education Center (VEC)
 2018 TURKSTAT Official Data
 Child Labour Force Survey 2019, Turkish Statistical Institute https://turkstatweb.tuik.gov.tr/PreHaberBultenleri.do?id=33807
Students are pictured attending a theory class at a VEC. 1 or 2 day of theoretical class at school is combined with 4 or 5 days of on-the-job training, each week. The on-the-job trainings conducted by master trainers take place in mostly small and medium size enterprises, in compliance with occupational health and safety measures. Students receive a payment of at least one third of the minimum wage during these on-the-job trainings. At VHS, students receive 5 days of theory classes. Yet, there are ateliers where students apply their learning to practice under the supervision of teachers. VHS students also have to complete internship. In both VHS and VEC, students can get first an Journeyman Certificate then a Master certification. VEC students can acquire a high school diploma by taking some additional courses, allowing one to continue to tertiary education as well.
Working together with the Ministry of National Education (MoNE), UNICEF Turkey provides support to strengthen the capacities of coordinator teachers and guidance counsellors who have regular interaction with children at the Vocational Education Centers. Several trainings were organized for coordinators and counsellors as well as staff and managers at Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen (TESK) which provides several on-the-job training options through their small and medium size enterprises. Materials such as Training Kits, Coordinator Teacher’s Handbook, Counsellor Teacher’s Handbook, Psycho-social Support Modules for Vocational Education Centers and Master Trainers Handbooks were developed through UNICEF partnership.
Students are pictured working on a project where they design a CD cover that is the most representative of their personality as part of a “self-discovery” activity outlined in the PPS Module Developed under UNICEF partnership. Psycho-social support activities can vary from self-esteem development to increasing mindfulness and emotional intelligence to inter-personal communications skills for the children attending the vocational education center. The center aims to provide employability skills to adolescents and youth as well as fostering personal development and social cohesion through the vocational education.
Applied learning is also a part of theory classes. Technical and vocational education is an area where the Ministry of Education collaborate closely with the private sector. Children who are enrolled in a VEC are required to find a workplace to practice and sharpen their skills and complete their education. In this regard, UNICEF Turkey’s work with TESK aims to increase both the quality of training and ensure its compliancy with child rights-based business principles.
Muharrem, 15, is enrolled in the auto electronic vocational training. He learns about installation, lighting and the music system. “I love working. I also love studying. Both my father and my brother work in the auto service industry. They fix cars. But they don’t know about auto electronics. I do! My master also received vocational training in auto service. I want to work for a well-known brand in auto industry once I receive my Master certification or maybe open up a shop with my father and my brother. Who knows!”
Muharrem is waiting outside his classroom with his friends for class to start. “I love coming to this center. I have a great circle of friends. They are different from the ones outside. My friends from outside may drag me into other things. These ones are different… Muhamed is my best friend. He studies in the field of furniture manufacturing.”
Deniz, a 20-year-old VEC student, is learning how to fix a car at a private auto service station as part of her on-the-job training. She started attending a VEC in 2019 and has learnt everything from scratch at this auto service shop from her Master. The on-the-job training allows her to generate income to take to her family while completing the milestones towards becoming a Master herself.
“I used to work in textile before coming here. I wasn’t insured. They said I had to work for 9 months. Then there was a conference at the Chamber of Commerce. They introduced all the different departments. Hairdresser, cook etc. I liked cars and motorbikes when I was little. And then I met Filiz (the owner of the car service) I heard that she was looking to train women masters. I got excited. I wanted to be on her team. Now my cousins wish they were in my place. Everybody in my family is so happy. My mom is the most supportive. There is no difference between a girl and a boy in this business, she says. Hold your chin up, she says. And so, I do. There is a big difference between the Deniz in the beginning and the Deniz now.”
“Sometimes I have questions about something that I learnt in class. I come here and ask my masters – and they are always happy to explain. Classes and work complement each other. It makes sense.”
Filiz, owner of the auto shop, has been in this business for 20 years. “I always make sure to check up on the students. I ask them how their day was. It is important to identify the students’ needs and problems. I often ask Deniz ‘Is there anything you see missing’? ‘Do you have any suggestions or feedback?’ I have to provide them the safe space to come up with suggestions. We have to remind them that they are here to learn and be trained with such conversations.”