News - August 13, 2015

Going into green education

The green vocational training (MBO) sector is not a world that is often familiar to people at the university. But there are opportunities there for Wageningen students of Forest & Nature Management, or Plant or Animal Sciences. Such as training to teach on an animal care programme.

Food, Recreation, Design, Crop farming, Flowers, Nature, Animal, Environment. These are key words for green ‘MBO’ post-secondary (16+) vocational training colleges. Many of these colleges – and there are about 60 of them in the Netherlands – have tractors, kitchens, a collection of animals and a garden. There is a lot going on in and around such a college, but the students do a crucial part of their learning on the job. These are doers, say their teachers. Outdoor types who love being out in nature and want to work with plants or animals.

Four Bachelor’s students who are going to follow the education minor in the Education and Competence Studies (ECS) chair group, will be starting teaching practice in one of these green MBO schools in September. Four others are still thinking about it. This is new, because until now almost all the students on the education minor thought in terms of teaching in secondary schools. This includes the 25 students who are now taking the minor and will qualify to teach the lower secondary classes of the more academic streams, HAVO and VWO. To teach in an MBO college, a different, less theoretical qualification suffices. The focus here is on vocational learning, explains Piety Runhaar, who coordinates the education minor. ‘As a teacher you are not just dealing with theory but also with hands-on practice and with career guidance for the students.’

She thinks it is not very well-known that Wageningen students can teach on these programmes. A project has now been started with Helicon, a green vocational training institution with both MBO and VMBO (pre-vocational secondary) schools in Brabant and Gelderland. The organization, whose president Ab Groen worked at Wageningen UR until two years ago, posed the question how they could get more Wageningen alumni on their staff. ‘We’ve been in touch about this since September 2014,’ says Guido Voets, human resources manager at Helicon. ‘We hear that many students who initially set their sights on scientific research, become interested in education. It the idea of teaching for a few years appeals to them.’

Helicon hopes that the baggage Wageningen students bring with them can raise the standard of the education at the college. ‘We expect more depth of content,’ says Voets. ‘In recent years a lot of attention was paid in MBO to the standard of language and arithmetic, but that pushed the subject matter into the background a bit.’ The education minor is a first step for ECS towards arousing some enthusiasm for green MBO education among students. Runhaar: ‘We have been thinking about how to create a link with green vocational education at the Master’s stage too. By setting up an ACT assignment at Helicon, for instance.’ ACT stands for Academic Consultancy Training: a course in which Wageningen Master’s students carry out an assignment for a client outside the university, working in multidisciplinary groups.

Runhaar sees the training of Wageningen students to teach in green vocational education as supplementary to the work of Stoas Vilentum. This higher education institution, located on the edge of the Wageningen campus, has been training teachers for the green vocational colleges for 35 years. In her view this could be an ideal mix for a green vocational education college: the teaching skills of Stoas graduates and the academic knowledge of Wageningen alumni. ‘Either way, MBO is another world,’ concludes Runhaar. ‘But that world needs to be more in the picture in Wageningen.’


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Animal Sciences ‘I’ve been to the college in Velp twice and I liked it very much. It is a small school on a friendly scale, with small classes. This makes the teaching more personal and you can devote more energy to the students. I think that contributes significantly to their development. They don’t have a lot of animals at the school, but they encounter them in the companies they go to for internships. I expect to learn a lot. I expressly opted for a vocational college because there is more of a link with my field. I could teach biology in a secondary school too, but my main interest is in animals. I don’t have very firm ideas about the future but if I enjoy it during these six months, I might go into teaching.’ 


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Animal Sciences ‘When I was still at primary school I visited a green vocational secondary school and spent a day there. I was very enthusiastic about the school, where you could do flower arranging and look after animals. It was great, but I realized the level wasn’t right for me. I know a bit about green MBO from my sister, a friend doing animal care and a fellow intern at an organic pig farm. I think it must be difficult to teach at a vocational college but the practical nature of it appeals to me. I don’t know yet whether I will really go into teaching, but I think teaching skills can be useful anyway. In September I’m going to the Helicon college in Velp. I’m looking forward to that.’

More than 50 years ago (in 1964), a department of Pedagogy & Didactics was established at Wageningen University, offering a teacher training programme for secondary education. Up until the early 1980s, students could qualify for teaching through this programme. In 1983 the government asked universities to concentrate their curricula more and the teacher training programme was stopped. Later the Education and Competence Studies (ECS) chair group started an orientation programme which included theory and teaching practice. Twenty students from various Bachelor’s programmes took part in this programme each year. They could go on to a teacher training course afterwards to qualify as teachers. The education minor was launched in 2009. The ministry of OCW, fearing a teacher shortage, wanted students to be able to get a fast-track teaching qualification. The minor has been running twice a year since 2011-2012. Many of the students have set their sights on going into teaching and for others it is a way of finding out whether teaching is a good option for them. Students can qualify to teach biology, geography, physics, chemistry and economics to lower secondary school classes. Students may qualify to teach the subjects related to their degree: students of Soil, Water & Atmosphere can teach physics, for instance. Students with degrees in unrelated subjects can follow a programme to bring their knowledge up to scratch after the minor. This option is rarely taken, but the education minor qualifies them to teach at a green college too. ECS expects this to lead to a growth in the numbers taking the minor – which appear to be stabilizing at the moment. Students of Forest and Nature Management, for example, or Plant and Animal Sciences, can easily teach related subjects at a vocational college after completing the minor. ‘We haven’t studied all the colleges, because you have to start somewhere,’ says Piety Runhaar. ‘But I expect there would be opportunities in green colleges after the minor for Bachelor’s students of, say, Food Technology, who can’t go straight into teaching chemistry in secondary schools.

Illustration: Eva van Schijndel Photo: Sven Menschel