Investing in human capital in El Salvador: the knowledge currency of the digital economy

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What is the current state of digital skills in El Salvador? Photo: Shutterstock What is the current state of digital skills in El Salvador? Photo: Shutterstock

Digital technologies are transforming how people, businesses, and governments interact, transact, work, and learn. To increase the adoption of digital technologies, countries need to foster citizens’ acquisition of digital skills through education and training, both formal and informal .

To support countries in this endeavor, the World Bank has launched the Digital Economy for Latin America (DE4LAC), an initiative that leverages a diagnostic framework developed in the context of the Digital Economy for Africa program. DE4LAC maps the current strengths and weaknesses of the national digital economy ecosystem and identifies both opportunities and challenges for future growth. The methodology focuses on six pillars for a vibrant and inclusive digital economy (Digital Infrastructure, Public Digital Platforms, Digital Financial Services, Digital Businesses, Digital Skills, and Trust Environment). This blog is focused on the digital skills pillar, which is crucial to driving technology adoption and innovation.

Between July and December 2021, the EdTech team at the World Bank embarked on the project DE4LAC El Salvador to explore:

  1. The current state of digital human capital in the country
  2. The supply and demand of digital skills development programs, and
  3. The hurdles and constraints that the country has to face for the optimal development of digital human capital.  

After having interviewed policymakers, principals of TVET institutions, EdTech specialists, and entrepreneurs, this blog summarizes the current state of digital human capital in El Salvador and the lessons learned to foster citizens’ acquisition of digital skills across the region.  

What is the current state of digital skills in El Salvador?  

First, the Government has made important advances in access to digital technologies by providing high-quality computers and connectivity for students and teachers across the country. Moving along the path of digital transformation, El Salvador will require further efforts to strengthen the supply of infrastructure to close the existing digital divide within the country and with comparable countries in the region . This divide, partly driven by low progress in development of quality fixed broadband infrastructure, is limiting the potential of digital technologies to support student learning and teacher training. 

What experiences has the team found in the country? 

As critical as closing the digital divide is to close the labor demand-supply gap. Demand for highly-trained professionals in digital technologies outpaces supply in El Salvador. Digital service providers cite low-quality training and education programs as the main barriers to hiring talent . The government is working to provide comprehensive digital skills programs in the formal education and training sector. For example, in high school, students can decide if they want to follow the technical path and connect with MEGATEC – a program that lets students choose from over 30 technical programs to strengthen their technical and digital skills in the last two years of high school and continue an extra year at TVET institution, where they obtain a higher technical degree. 

Private sector is also contributing to strengthening the supply of digital skills through training programs. Kodigo is a social enterprise that offers bootcamps, short and accelerated courses co-created with companies hiring these skills, especially in creative technologies sectors. Proinnova-Fusades promotes the adoption of technology in the Salvadorean industry and trains employees of small and medium enterprises in digital skills. Emplea-T, a program developed by the association AGAPE, offers a 2-month technical and soft skills training program for youth to help them get a job or start a business. It is critical to monitor and evaluate these programs to see if they address the main challenges that firms are facing to find talent in the country as well as to scale those programs that have demonstrated effectiveness. 

To guide policymakers, the Government has developed national strategic plans related to digital skills, such as Digital Agenda 2020-2030. However, El Salvador still lacks a national framework for digital skills development, which is essential to guide how students acquire digital skills from the foundational level at school to the highly-specialized level in higher education. 

What windows need to be opened to increase the adoption of digital skills? 

The Ministry of Education could lead in developing and implementing a framework for digital skills development covering the main competences of UNESCO’s Digital Literacy Global Framework. Once this framework is put in place, the digital divide can be closed through a mix of education planning and investment to ensure teachers and students can use the internet and devices every day with sufficient data and connection speed. Moreover, elements of successful programs to link high school students to careers in technology, such as MEGATEC, can be replicated and scaled up through online learning tools (e.g., MOOCs). To scale programs such as MEGATEC, the government could engage a wider ecosystem of stakeholders to enable the effective deployment of digital skills learning programs faster without having to start from scratch.

Klaus Schwab once said, "The biggest change in the world today is that the young don't learn from the old, they teach the old about the world today". If the young generation of El Salvador is equipped with the needed enabling conditions and the right set of skills, they can generate social and economic transformation that could benefit a larger sector of the  Salvadoran society.

Special thanks to Daniel Alejandro Stagno Izaguirre and the DE4LAC team for their inputs.

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