Q&A: VUB introduces future teachers to challenges of urban education


A new module in VUB’s teacher-training department finds students visit secondary schools across Brussels to learn about the different challenges at each of them

No school’s an island

The teacher-training department at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) is introducing a week-long programme that sees students visit Dutch-speaking secondary schools across Brussels. Programme co-ordinator Joost Vaesen explains how this will help students realise that schools must always be seen in the context of their environment.

Why did you decide to introduce this programme?

Our teacher training department has a new focus – instead of separate courses, we’re offering modules, each with a specific set of goals. The first one, urban education, focuses on the difficulties of teaching in a big city like Brussels. It is part of our master’s degree that’s also offered at Erasmus University College.

What will the module look like?

Students start with a session that looks at the school’s context. Is it public or Catholic? Is it publically funded or privately run? Then we look at four interrelated themes: the school’s infrastructure, the pupils’ social mix and background, language aspects and multilingual education, and to what extent the school is connected to its surrounding neighbourhood.

For instance, there are problems resulting from a lack of school places in certain areas. Should you give room to non-official languages like Turkish and Arabic in class? And, finally, can you really connect to your pupils in a Brussels school if you live in Flanders and commute to work every day?

What’s the practical component of the programme?

The students from VUB and Erasmus are put together in groups of five to eight people. After the introductory course, each group visits two schools in Anderlecht, Sint-Agatha Berchem, Etterbeek, Jette, Molenbeek and Ukkel, with a range of practical assignments based on the four interrelated themes.

At the end of the week, each team has to produce a research poster summarising their findings. The students will also have to come up with a project on their view of a “school of the future”. This part isn’t graded, but we hope it will be a source of inspiration for them.

Photo courtesy GO! Atheneum Etterbeek