Argentina: Public employees go for IT

By Marcela Valente

(IPS) In keeping with its aim to shore up the strong role played by the state, which was badly weakened during the years when free-market economic policies were predominant, the Argentine government is implementing a successful programme of electronic learning for its employees that is already being requested by a dozen Latin American countries interested in replicating the experience.

“We have trained 6,500 people in 30 different courses,” Marta Mena, coordinator of the Electronic Learning (E-Learning) Training Programme (PROCAE), told IPS. The initiative is part of the State Modernisation Project, launched in 2005 under the Subsecretariat of Public Administration, during the government of centre-left President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007).

The main constituency of these courses is public administration employees at the national and provincial levels. “E-learning allows us to offer training with very wide coverage, without the limitation of requiring students to be physically present,” Mena said.

As stated in the report on the programme’s achievements up to December 2007, PROCAE arose out of the need to improve the capabilities of public employees, “to build a strong modern state.”

That phrase reflects Kirchner’s strategy, continued by his wife and successor President Cristina Fernández, of strengthening the state which had been cut back by the “neoliberal” free-market policies followed by the government of former President Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

To meet that goal, a flexible, interactive educational tool was designed that would ensure high-quality training on a mass scale for public employees with specific needs, in different areas and at different levels. In some cases, basic education is needed, and in others, more sophisticated training.

“The source of the demand is every office that needs training for its employees. The contents are selected by specialists in the applicant agency, and after setting goals, we design a course to meet that demand,” said Mena, a graduate in educational sciences and a distance learning expert.

She is also coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean network of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), a partner organisation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in its mission of promoting education in the developing world.

When a course is ready, it can be taken by employees selected by the agency that requested the training, or voluntarily by those who enrol in it. But the course material is also available to employees in the same field in other countries, and for civil society as a whole.

PROCAE courses have been downloaded from the Internet by public employees and members of civil society in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and other countries in the region.

Some courses, such as “We Are All Mercosur”, about ways in which civil society can participate in the Southern Common Market integration process between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, are much sought after by non-governmental and private organisations.

Another course popular with the private sector is on “Protection of Consumers under Argentine Law”, which lists, classifies and updates existing regulations and legal precedents pertaining to consumer defence, with the aim of boosting knowledge of this relatively new subject in public administration.

“Quality Management in Tourism” is a course that was developed for the public administration, but which is also useful for management and other staff in private companies. It addresses prospects and trends in tourism as a tool for development, and recommends a number of ways of improving the quality of services.

The duration of the courses depends on the number of hours a week each student puts in, the response rate of tutors to students’ questions, and their opportunities to use a computer at work, at home or in an Internet site for the purposes of the course.

PROCAE proved its efficiency by quickly training officials in charge of polling stations for the 2007 presidential elections, and dealt with complex challenges such as providing courses on procurement procedures, or on management of the government’s finances, requested by the Finance Ministry.

The programme is also contributing to the National Youth Leaders Training Programme — which aims to strengthen young people’s participation in public administration — to the promotion of human rights and the rights of women, and to training facilitators for productive projects in rural areas.

In its 2007 report, PROCAE describes the profile of public employees who took a pilot course on Introduction to E-Government and their opinions about the experience. The participants were from eight of Argentina’s 23 provinces; more than half were over 40; and the majority had received tertiary education.

When asked what motivated them to take the course, the most frequent responses were “the desire for personal growth,” the need to “update and/or expand professional knowledge,” “learning what is needed for the job,” and to a lesser extent, securing a promotion in their careers.

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