02 SES 05 A, Successful Students
Many countries worldwide have developed educational policy to increase student numbers in the most advanced levels of the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system and to prevent student drop-out between successive levels. A higher educational level is regarded as crucial for new professionals to be able to meet the ever-changing demands of future jobs and to live as responsible citizens in modern society (OECD, 2010). In the Dutch educational system, the context of this particular study, the traditional VET pathway starts from lower secondary pre-vocational school-based programmes at EQF level 2 (VMBO; nominal duration 4 years) and goes via middle-management VET programmes at EQF level 4 (MBO; 3-4 years) to higher professional bachelor programmes at EQF levels 5 or 6 (HBO; 2-4 years) (Cedefop, 2016).
During the last decade, continuing learning pathways have been designed and implemented in the Dutch VET column that are aimed at fostering students’ transition to and promoting their study success in HBO programmes (see e.g. Sneyers & De Witte, 2016). Continuing learning pathways can be defined as “sequential educational programmes combined into a new [integrated] educational programme: Continuing [learning] pathways are characterised by curriculum continuity in particular competence areas or subjects lasting several years, and encompassing more than one qualification level” (Biemans et al., 2013, p. 109). According to Biemans et al. (2016, p. 316), “the aim of these continuing [learning] pathways is to promote and streamline students’ knowledge and skill acquisition and competence development” (cf. Brockmann et al., 2008). In this way, so-called competence progression models for specific content domains can be implemented to ensure students’ continuing competence development (Biemans et al., 2019). For example, Lilleväli and Täks (2017, p. 3) elaborated on the concept of a competence progression model within the context of entrepreneurship education (or EE) as “a step-by-step advancement in various contexts and with learning outcomes and roles of EE throughout the education system” (see also Rasmussen & Nybye, 2013).
Examples of such continuing learning pathways in Dutch VET are the Talent Development Engineering programme (TDE) and the Green Lyceum (GL), which is offered by several agricultural (or ‘green’) VET institutes. These educational programmes can be described as accelerated, continuing pathways connecting VMBO and MBO levels and are specifically aiming at students who combine a relatively high cognitive ability to reach the HBO level with an outspoken affinity for practical, vocation-oriented assignments. The Dutch trend of designing and implementing continuing learning pathways is in line with the efforts many other countries are making to make pathways to higher education more flexible and, thus, to promote students’ transitions between successive educational levels (see e.g., Catterall, Davis, & Yang, 2014; Harris & Rainey, 2012).
The programmes TDE and GL are both characterised by a specific combination of content and educational design aspects (see for detailed information on GL design features and theoretical embedding Biemans et al., 2013; 2016; 2019; 2020). In the present study, both continuing learning pathways were compared in terms of curriculum characteristics. The research aimed to lead to deeper insights in how students’ transitions to this educational level can be promoted through learning pathways with specific educational design features.
To be specific, this study aimed to provide answers to the following research questions:
- How can the curricula of the GL and TDE programmes be described in terms of content and educational design aspects?
- What are the most important similarities and differences between both curricula?
At the ECER conference, these similarities and differences will be related to student variables such as study success and transition to HBO.
First, in March 2019, contact persons and team leaders of the schools involved in GL (Terra Meppel and Emmen) and TDE (De Uilenhof, Insula College and Da Vinci College) have completed a curriculum description form for the specific educational programme in their own school. After completion, this form contained a systematic description of 10 essential content and educational design components of the actually implemented curriculum (see also Van den Akker, 2006; Thijs & Van den Akker, 2009): vision, learning goals, learning content, learning activities, teacher roles, sources and materials, ways of grouping students, learning environment, time frame and location, and assessment. If necessary, participants received procedural support from the researchers. The curriculum description form consisted of questions corresponding with these components that had to be answered by the participants based on available information sources such as documents, log books, observations, self-reports, lesson plans, information from students, etc. In addition to answering these questions, participants had to specify quantitative data related to these curriculum aspects (e.g. average number of students per class, teacher-student ratio, etc.) as well. During two focus group discussions (one for GL and one for TDE) held in April 2019, representatives of both learning pathways were further questioned by the researchers about content and educational design aspects of these educational programmes and about the underlying argumentations. Moreover, unclarities in the curriculum description forms were discussed to be able to construct an optimal description of the actually implemented GL and TDE curricula. Next, the completed curriculum description forms for GL and TDE were analysed by the researchers in terms of the most important similarities and differences in content and educational design between both learning pathways. The identified similarities and differences were validated based on the content of the focus group discussions and presented to the coordinators of both programmes for final validation purposes. As mentioned above, similarities and differences in curriculum characteristics between the two educational programmes GL and TDE will be related to student variables such as study success and transition to HBO. These variables will be specified at the ECER Conference.
Although GL and TDE are aiming at comparable target groups of students (with relatively high cognitive abilities and a preference for vocation-oriented assignments) and both programmes are characterised by an acceleration of the original VMBO-MBO pathway, other characteristics of the two programmes are fundamentally different. Whereas GL intends to prepare students for higher professional bachelor (HBO) programmes in a variety of content domains, TDE aims to increase the number of students opting for an educational programme in engineering (either in MBO or in HBO). These different starting points of both programmes have consequences for the curricula of the two learning pathways. For GL, VMBO and MBO teachers together have built a new curriculum in close cooperation, while for TDE, the original existing VMBO and MBO programmes are still the core curriculum. Next to a variety of vocation-oriented parts connected to different professional contexts, general theoretical subjects are offered in GL at comparable levels as in general secondary education at EQF 4 level. Moreover, GL is explicitly aimed at developing competencies and skills that students need in HBO. TDE, on the other hand, mainly offers the original VMBO and MBO content with a stronger focus on assignments in engineering. GL is characterized by a continuing learning pathway in which VMBO and MBO are truly integrated, while in TDE, VMBO and MBO are partly overlapping to improve the transition between both educational levels and have not changed much compared with regular VMBO and MBO curricula. In GL, teaching appears to be more attuned to the characteristics of the students (especially more focus on coaching for competence development and less on teaching for domain-specific expertise) than in TDE. Relations between these similarities and differences and student variables such as study success and transition to HBO will be reported at the ECER conference.
Akker, J. van den (2006). Curriculum development re-invented: evolving challenges for SLO. In: J. Letschert (Red.), Curriculum development re-invented. Enschede: SLO. Biemans, H.J.A., Bruijn, E. de, Boer, P.R. den, & Teurlings, C.C.J. (2013). Differences in design format and powerful learning environment characteristics of continuing pathways in vocational education as related to student performance and satisfaction. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 65(1), 108-126. Biemans, H., Mariën, H., Fleur, E., Beliaeva, T., & Harbers, J. (2019). Promoting Students’ Transitions to Successive VET Levels through Continuing Learning Pathways. Vocations and Learning, 12(2), 179–195. Biemans, H.J.A., Mariën, H., Fleur, E., Beliaeva, T., & Harbers, J. (2020). Students’ Experiences with Different Learning Pathways to Higher Professional Bachelor Programmes. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, 7(1), 1-20. Biemans, H., Mariën, H., Fleur, E., Tobi, H., Nieuwenhuis, L., & Runhaar, P. (2016). Students’ Learning Performance and Transitions in Different Learning Pathways to Higher Vocational Education. Vocations and Learning, 9(3), 315-332. Brockmann, M., Clarke, L., Méhout, P., & Winch, C. (2008). Competence-based vocational education and training (VET): The cases of England and France in a European perspective. Vocations and Learning, 1, 227-244. Catterall, J., Davis, J., & Yang, D.F. (2014). Facilitating the learning journey from vocational education and training to higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 33(2), 242-255. Cedefop (2016). Spotlight on VET The Netherlands. Thessaloniki: Cedefop. Harris, R., & Rainey, L. (2012). Learning pathways between and within vocational and higher education: towards a typology? Australian Educational Researcher, 39, 107-123. Lilleväli, U., & Täks, M. (2017). Competence models as a tool for conceptualizing the systematic process of entrepreneurship competence development. Education Research International (Special issue Entrepreneurship education with impact: Opening the black box). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/5160863 OECD (2010). Education of a glance. Paris: OECD. Rasmussen, A., & Nybye, N. (2013). EE: Progression model. Odense C, Denmark: The Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship – Young Enterprise. Retrieved from www.ffe-ye.dk/media/44723/Progression-model-English.pdf Sneyers, E., & De Witte, K. (2016). Doorstroom MBO-HBO en uitval in het HBO. Evidence-based aanbevelingen [Transition MBO-HBO and drop-out in HBO: Evidence-based recommendations]. Den Bosch: ECBO. Thijs, A. & Akker, J. van den (2009). Leerplan in ontwikkeling. Enschede: SLO.
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