Vocational and professional education

Life-long learning and the acquisition of soft and hard job skills that support the learning economy require a balanced life-long curriculum that needs to be supported by innovation of the educational infrastructure. Recent attempts to reform secondary schools to adapt curriculum and didactics to the new needs of learning economies have largely failed, not because the aims or the educational research basis were wrong, but because implementation became trapped in an organizational structure and culture that was not adapted to absorb the new approaches.

A critical component of the Dutch education system is the vocational education system (VMBO, MBO), which serves over 60% of current youth and prepares them for a diversity of vocations in the agricultural, industrial, engineering, ICT and services sectors. School drop-out is relatively high in vocational education and the system is marked by strong tensions that paralyze innovation and quality improvement. The balance between general education and job specific training is a recurrent issue of debate, with short term interest of employers in specific job skills training conflicting with the long term needs for meta-skills to promote low and mid-level innovation capacity. Underlying these tensions is a lack of understanding how explicit theoretical knowledge relates to tacit embodied knowledge and how general education in academic skills can be integrated with training of job skills.

Top-down reforms right from the design table will probably not work as ample experience indicates. Comprehensive (region-based) collaborative projects of education researchers, schools, teacher training institutes, and external partners (companies, cultural organisations, government services) is a promising alternative. ELS researchers have a strong record in designing professional education programmes, related to seminal work in medical and veterinary medical education programs. Based in multidisciplinary collaboration, authentic simulations and assessment methods, embedded in digital learning environments, have been developed and evaluated. This experience (and the developed technology) can be applied to vocational and other professional education programs as well. ELS researchers working in this area received several major grants recently. ELS researchers have also developed new theoretical and empirical approaches to learning motivation focusing on interest development and engagement at and across the boundaries of school and work contexts. Also work of ELS researchers in the area of comprehensible (instruction) language is relevant here, for which major grants were obtained in the past years.