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In Flanders, innovation in education is strongly linked to the promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)- disciplines. With the Lisbon Strategy (2000), the EU called for greater attention to be given to technological development and innovation in higher education. The 2012-2020 STEM action plan (STEM-actieplan 2012-2020) aims to stimulate study and working careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In 2014, STEM education became more attractive thanks to improved STEM didactics. The focus is on strengthening competencies of teachers via refresher courses, encouraging school projects and deploying engineering coaches. The process of study and career choice is being optimized through study choice instruments such as “education selector’ (Onderwijskiezer).
The Flemish government has developed a general framework containing the main STEM principles and objectives . This STEM-framework can be used by everyone in education. The framework focuses on both “STEM literacy” (the ability to understand and apply concepts from science, technology, engineering and mathematics, including computer science and interdisciplinary strategies, in order to make informed decisions, create new products and processes, and solve problems but also the awareness of the roles which science, technology, engineering and mathematics fulfil in modern society) and “STEM specialisation” (far-reaching STEM literacy and a deliberate choice for a STEM discipline and/or STEM profession). The framework is especially designed for (pre-) primary and secondary education.
STEM focuses on the following dimensions and principles:
- Interaction and coexistence of the separate STEM components of the acronym with respect for each component’s individuality
- Problem-solving learning through the application of STEM concepts and practices
- Researching and designing in a skilled and creative manner
- Thinking and reasoning, modelling and abstracting
- Strategically using and developing technology
- Acquiring an insight into the relevance of STEM in itself and to society
- Obtaining and interpreting information and communicating about STEM
- Working together in team
- Acquiring 21st century skills
In 2016, The Flemish minister of Education, Hilde Crevits subsidized 30 innovative STEM-Projects (30 innovatieve STEM-projecten voor technisch en beroepssecundair onderwijs). Pupils and their teachers in technical and vocational schools were invited to participate in rethinking the construction of qualitative and innovative school buildings. The selected projects focused, on the one hand, on building and equipping new schools, with attention to technical installations, energy efficiency and environmental comfort. On the other hand, there was also room for innovative STEM projects concerning attractive STEM education in vocational and technical education. These projects cover a wide range of themes, ranging from the cultivation of flour worms as a central element in a food security project, the analysis of the rollercoaster of a theme park, to perfecting the barriers in the car park of the school and the firm introduction of STEM into care education.
In 2017, Flemish Minister of Education Hilde Crevits subsidized 92 innovative STEM projects in Flanders on climate awareness (92 innovatieve STEM-projecten in Vlaanderen en Brussel om jongeren klimaatbewust te maken). In these projects pupils, teachers and external partners collaborate on a project to make young people aware of the climate problem.
The Regional Technological Centers (Regionale Technologische Centra of RTC’s) ensure a better coordination of education and training with the needs of the labor market. The RTC’s bring together partners from education and industry. They offer teachers and pupils in technical and vocational secondary education business-realistic, contemporary and socially relevant STEM projects. These projects are the result of intense collaboration between the business community and the educational actors and make an essential contribution to innovative, recruiting and high-quality STEM education.
On the STEM-portal site of the Department of Education and Training (STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), information is offered on pedagogical tools and support (Aan de slag met STEM), e.g.:
- A reflection instrument (Stem op School) of the Flemish Education Council (Vlaamse Onderwijs Raad -VLOR) that allows to evaluate the STEM education in one’s own school, to further develop and possibly to adjust the STEM education in that school, both at school and at classroom level.
- Choosing for STEM (Kiezen voor Stem): The educational network KlasCement offers teachers a wide range of teaching materials for the sciences, computer science, technology, world orientation and mathematics.
On the basis of a social debate, also a decreed framework was developed in which 16 key competences were included. One of these key competences are the learning competencies. Learning competences include research competencies, innovative thinking, creativity, problem-solving and critical thinking, systems thinking, information processing and collaboration. Commissions, in which teachers were also represented alongside education providers and scientific experts, developed new final objectives for the first degree during the spring of 2018. On 9 November 2018, the Flemish Government approved the new final objectives for the first grade of secondary education (Voorontwerp van decreet betreffende de onderwijsdoelen voor de eerste graad van het secundair onderwijs).
Development of Entrepreneurship Competences
The Flemish Government launched the Action Plan for Entrepreneurship Education 2015-2019 (Actieplan Ondernemend Onderwijs 2015-2019), at the end of 2015. More information on this Action Plan can be found in chapter 3.8.
One of the 16 key competences of the final objectives for the first grade of secondary education concerns the development of initiative, ambition, entrepreneurship and career competencies (decreet betreffende de onderwijsdoelen voor de eerste graad van het secundair onderwijs). The goals related to this this key competence are built up by analogy with the core components of the European EntreComp framework (The Entrepreneurship Competence Framework) and can be divided in three core components: ideas and possibilities, resources and action.
The final objectives for pupils in the first grade concerning entrepreneurship competences are:
- Seeing and exploring opportunities by means of a creative thinking process:
- The pupils generate ideas for a challenge on the basis of provided techniques and methodologies and in a structured and defined framework.
- Exploring the feasibility of ideas, weighing up the use of resources versus objectives and realizing the chosen idea
- The pupils examine the feasibility of ideas taking into account the criteria that have been provided.
- The pupils work out step by step a self-chosen idea through the effective use of time and resources.
- Making (sustainable) choices, taking into account short and long term consequences:
- The pupils make substantiated choices on the basis of criteria and strategies.
All these goals are considered transversal goals, meaning that they are an integral part of other key competences, more in particular of: 'Competences in mathematics, exact sciences and technology', 'Competencies in Dutch', 'Competences in other languages',' Competences regarding historical awareness', 'Competences related to spatial awareness' and 'Economic and financial competences'.
Strengthening innovative learning environments
In the Policy Plan on Education 2019-2024 (Beleidsnota Onderwijs 2019-2024), Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts emphasized the strengthening of innovative learning environments. In collaboration with the Ministers responsible for Economy, Science Policy and Innovation and for Youth and Media he will develop and roll-out a new STEM 2020-2030 action plan.
Although the infrastructure has improved (including the rise of digital blackboards, wireless internet, PC per student ratio, ...) and its use has also increased the past decennium, there has not yet been a generalized and frequent use of ICT and digital media for teaching purposes (Heymans et al., 2018). The number of teachers who use ICT daily remains minimal. And according to (more than) half of the pupils, ICT is used in the classroom only a few times a year. This is partly due to a lack of IT competencies among many teachers, but also to the lack of high-quality digital learning materials and software, lack of clarity about learning objectives and insufficient pedagogical preparation for meaningful digital education.
In the context of its ICT and digital media policy
- the Ministry of Education subsidizes the course Media Coach (cursus Mediacoach) which is a training for professionals who work with young people or adults and who want to integrate media literacy into their own work practice.
- the Department of Education and Training
- established networks of innovative schools during the school year 2013/2014. These networks consisted of at least ten schools that tried new technologies and exchanged their experiences with other schools from the network. One of the main content areas of the network was working with tablets. The schools from the Innovative Schools Network studied the preconditions, the learning potential, the stumbling blocks, etc.
- bundled on the website KlasCement opportunities for training and teaching materials.
- the Knowledge Center on Media literacy (Kenniscentrum Mediawijs) developed learning resources, tools and methods and bundled them on the website as 'media signposts' (mediawegwijzers), e.g.:
The passion for STEM outside education is encouraged by means of founding a network of STEM academies. In the STEM academy network all organizers of extracurricular STEM activities for young people are gathered. In this way, the government stimulates the interest of children and young people in science and technology in leisure time. In addition, communication campaigns promote social appreciation of STEM professions and the sectors are encouraged to undertake actions about STEM. Up to now, more than 100 organizations have been officially recognized as STEM academies. Some organize only one workshop per year, others have a wide range of camps, workshops, and series of classes. Besides formal learning organizations like colleges and universities and schools, it concerns also non-profit organizations, public observatories, ... The following youth work organizations are also recognized as a STEM academie:
- Nature and Science (Natuur en Wetenschap, NeW) is a youth association that organizes activities about science and nature in class, school and leisure.
- Youth, Culture and Science (Jeugd, Cultuur en Wetenschap, JCW) is for insorganizes cultural and scientific activities, camps and workshops for children and young people aged 6 to 30 years.
Experimental youth projects
The Flemish government also subsidizes associations that set up an experimental project in one of the following areas:
- Youth work
- Information to or about youth and youth participation
- Cultural education
- Supralocal youth work for socially vulnerable children and young people and / or children and young people with a disability.
Experimental projects focus on new developments and needs that live in the youth sector and more generally in youth. They have to be innovative in terms of methodology or content. Examples of this are the startups of youth work through new methods or attracting new audiences. In 2017, The Minister of Youth subsidized 12 projects. A short description of the projects that have been funded the past years can be found on the website of the Department of Culture, Youth and Media (in Dutch).