Universities lay plans for new teacher training degrees


As Flemish universities prepare to offer teacher training degrees, they are finding collaboration with university colleges and adult education centres more important than ever

Working out the details

Universities in Flanders are preparing to take on new responsibilities for teacher training, following a change in government policy. Though the full extent of the reform is still being discussed, plans are already being made so that new Master’s degrees in teaching can be introduced in 2019.

At present, someone who wants to teach in a Flemish school follows a post-graduate programme of teacher training after a regular Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. These qualifications can be awarded by universities, university colleges and adult education centres (CVOs).

The university colleges also offer Bachelor’s degrees in teaching, but only for those who want to teach in primary schools and the early years of secondary school. Students on these programmes learn both the discipline they plan to teach and pedagogical methods, in addition to getting practical classroom experience.

Now the Flemish government has decided that teaching should be a degree subject for everyone. As CVOs cannot award degrees, this means they will either have to work with universities and university colleges, or give up providing teacher training altogether.

University colleges will continue to offer Bachelor’s degrees in teaching, while universities have been asked to develop Master’s degree programmes to prepare teachers for the later years of secondary school. 

Three components

Flemish universities already include teaching modules in some Master’s programmes, but the idea of integrating them in a degree is novel. 

“The final requirements for such a programme will have to include a competence in both the discipline and in teaching outcomes, and that will be something new,” says Peter Lievens, dean of the science faculty at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) and chair of its academic teacher programme.

The final requirements will have to include a competence in both the discipline and in teaching outcomes, and that will be new

- Peter Lievens

For Antwerp University, this integration becomes particularly important with the Master’s dissertation. “At the moment, if you take a master in history, the subject of the dissertation is normally research into history rather than how it is taught,” says Ann De Schepper, president of the university’s educational board.

The challenge is to make the teaching of history a dissertation subject with the same academic rigour as in a research Master’s degree. “If we can organise this master dissertation so that the three components – the discipline, teaching methods and practice – come together, this will be a very strong part for the educational master,” she adds. 

Discussion is still under way about how focused these new Master’s degrees will be, but the general aim is to be inclusive.

A single programme

“The idea is that we will combine the different science disciplines into one programme,” says Lievens, “with the option to specialise in maybe two sciences, like physics and mathematics, or biology and chemistry, or engineering and mathematics.”

Students would have to specialise in the same discipline as their Bachelor’s degree, but would also get a broader appreciation of the field.

Another issue that has yet to be settled is the length of the Master’s programmes. Two years, amounting to 120 credits, is favoured by most universities, but options for 90 credits are also being discussed.

Meanwhile, people who have already have a Master’s degree, including those hoping to move into teaching from another career, will be able to follow short “educative” Master’s programmes covering teaching methods and practice. Collaboration with the CVOs will be important in this respect. 

“It’s this short track that we want to develop with the CVOs, because this is where their expertise lies,” says Lievens.

Joint effort

To this end, KU Leuven has signed an agreement to collaborate with seven of the nine Catholic CVOs in Flanders. These are in Diepenbeek in Limburg, Geel, Antwerp, Ghent and Aalst, Kortrijk, Bruges, and Leuven itself. The two other Catholic CVOs may join at a later date. 

The idea is that prospective teachers would be able to study partly at the CVO closest to them, partly at home through distance learning, and also spend time in Leuven. “We would like to offer this in a very flexible way, with blended learning programmes and localisations with campuses all across Flanders,” Lievens explains. 

We are starting with the content, and then we will see what we will do to organise the programmes

- Ann De Schepper

“There should not be too much travelling, but for some courses, such as content-specific teaching methods, it will be important to come here and join other student teachers in the same discipline, for instance for laboratory work in the sciences.”

Antwerp University, meanwhile, has a more regional focus, and will build on existing collaborations with nearby university colleges and CVOs. “We are starting with the content, and then we will see what we will do to organise the programmes,” says De Schepper.

Links between the universities and university colleges will also be important, in areas such as classroom management, team teaching and the organisation of school placements.

But the main challenge, Lievens says, will be getting the new degrees accredited by 2019. “It is possible, but we won’t have too much time to waste.”

Photo courtesy CVO Vivo Kortrijk