-OpEd-

BUENOS AIRES — It's a tradition that dates back, they say, to the 12th century. The master and his pupil, side-by-side, working together in a range of trades and professions, one of them teaching, the other learning.

Time passed, educational systems made everything more sophisticated, and they gave this teaching system a name: the "dual system." Call it what you want, but it's essentially the same approach used 800 years ago. It's theory and practice operating simultaneously, with a master who teaches while working.

This system works for carpentry and construction, but it can just as easily apply to computer programming or nuclear physics. And it's in Germany, right now, where the dual system has made the biggest strides.

There, youngsters starting at 13 can opt for this type of teaching and thus pursue their education in a real work environment. They still do some school-based theoretical study, but 70% of their training takes place inside firms. Older apprentices even earn money.

This training is no longer dependent on the German Ministry of Education: trade unions, firms and the Economy Ministry agree on the educational and training courses industry needs. Today there are 325 such course options in the country, and a high percentage of Germans choose this type of training for their children.

Germany, furthermore, isn't the only country to adopt this system. It also functions in the Nordic states, Australia, Austria and Switzerland, all countries with relatively low rates of youth unemployment. Argentina, in contrast, has one of the highest rates.

This system works for carpentry and construction, but it can also apply nuclear physics.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the connection. It's therefore worth asking whether the German-style dual system could be implemented in Argentina on a mass scale.

There are some discouraging precedents, starting with the long tradition in Buenos Aires of opposing any and all reforms to secondary education. And yet, the dual system approach has made some inroads in technical schools, with the so-called "professionalizing practices" program. In those schools, students in their final year must do a practical training in their specialized area, inside a relevant firm.

Education Ministry and the Labor department also managed recently to modify the tax and social security rules to make it easier for students to undertake training programs. Firms had been asking for such changes for some time.

No one knows whether the German system could work in our country, and indeed, rather than just import ideas from abroad, we might have to envisage a local version. But in any case, there's nothing wrong with giving it a go. We might even be in for a pleasant surprise.


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