Group T Leuven Education College became a certified member of the UNESCO Associated School Project Network (ASPnet) last year for its unique teacher training programme and its International Educational Classes. With that, it became the first UNESCO associated school in Flanders.
The quality label indicates that education at Group T is in line with the fundamental ideas of UNESCO. "It is in a way an international recognition of what we have already been doing for a long time," says Stijn Dhert, dean of Group T. "Our educational policy is already formed around the UNESCO's ‘four pillars of education', and since we have from the beginning acknowledged the potential of cultural diversity and the diversity of ideas, the UNESCO recognition is really a milestone for us."
Established in 1953, the ASPnet now comprises 8,500 primary, secondary and vocational schools and teacher training programmes in 180 countries. Being a part of this huge network has radically changed the stature of Group T as an education college. "On an international level, it has had an effect on our standing as an institution," says Dhert. "It has moved us up into a different league, so to speak, so we have a louder and stronger voice now. And the label affirms that our vision on education is in line with UNESCO's."
UNESCO's four pillars of education (learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be) were established in the 1990s, with the guiding principle that education takes place throughout one's life in many forms, and no one area of learning should take precedence.
Despite the strict language legislation in Flanders regarding education, Group T's Postgraduate International Educating Class (PIEC) is taught in English - the only programme of its kind taught in English in Flanders. The PIEC is intended to reach beyond Flanders by opening its doors to students from all over the world. "We have a programme here that is truly unique in the world," explains Dhert. "We get students from countries as far away as Indonesia, South Korea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameroon and China."
The idea is to educate the young minds of today from a UNESCO perspective: to encourage them to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities and act as agents for peaceful co-existence. "I believe the programme also contributes to the personal development of students, as they learn from each other as much as they learn from the curriculum," says Dhert. "We use cultural diversity as a tool to better understand our world together."
In an address in Paris last April, soon after the Leuven college was awarded the UNESCO designation, the ASPnet international coordinator, Lyvia Saldari, encouraged Group T to set up further educational initiatives and to develop innovative educational materials for schools belonging to the network.
"The programme of your university reflects what ASPnet is all about," she said. "I do hope that Group T will play a central role in the further development of the ASP network in Flanders."
Pictured: Stijn Dhert, dean of Group T, recieving the ASPnet certificate from UNESCO ASP network co-ordinator Lyvia Saldariof in Paris last year