Wanted: innovative ideas to transform education


Antwerp publisher Van In launches competition to showcase and share bright ideas for schools

Classy inspiration

Within a day of announcing the Van In competition for innovation in education, ideas were arriving in Winfried Mortelmans’ mailbox. “That surprised us, but it was also the intention,” he says, explaining that there is no shortage of fresh thinking about education in Flanders.

“There’s already a lot of innovation here, and plenty of schools are working on it. Our aim is to bring these ideas into the open and to share them with everybody involved in education.”

Mortelmans is the chief executive of Van In, an education publisher headquartered in Wommelgem, near Antwerp. It’s a business that long ago moved beyond books to include software and digital platforms that support teachers in their daily work.

New technology such as this, which makes teaching more flexible and improves results, is certainly one area where the competition hopes to find innovative ideas. But there will also be innovations in classroom practice.

“We might be talking about more active learning, collaborative learning, or social learning,” Mortelmans explains. “These are all ways of learning that are innovative and can produce better outcomes.”

Beyond technology

There are also innovative ways of organising education at the school level. “You have schools that decide they don’t want to divide up pupils based on their birth dates any more, but want to try innovative ways of bringing pupils together based on their needs or their interests.”

The best ideas will need to succeed on several levels. “We are looking for innovations that create a better learning outcome and a higher engagement for teachers and pupils. We also want innovations that make life easier for teachers, which allow them to do new things without involving more workload or eating up resources.”

After 10 years in the job, some teachers tend to see only the limitations around a new idea and why it cannot work

- Van In CEO Winfried Mortelmans

Relatively untested ideas are just as welcome as well-developed innovations. “Sometimes teachers have good ideas but are reluctant to come forward because they’ve only tried them out in their own classrooms,” Mortelmans says. “OK, but let’s pick up these ideas, share them. Maybe other teachers will like the ideas and try them out as well.”

The competition, called the Van INnovatie Award, has three categories: primary education, secondary education and teacher training. This last category is not about innovation in training teachers, but tapping into some of the freshest ideas.

“After 10 years in the job, some teachers tend to see only the limitations around a new idea and why it cannot work, whereas teachers in training are open to everything and not limited by practical boundaries,” Mortelmans explains. “They sometimes have a fresher view of how education should be organised or how learning resources could be developed.”

Learn from Finland

The deadline for submissions is 28 June, after which a jury of education professionals will select three winners. The top prize will be a study trip to Finland, the leading nation in Europe when it comes to education and innovation.

Flanders is not so bad in this respect: when Finland regularly tops the league tables for learning outcomes, Flanders is usually in the top 10. “But Finland is doing things a little differently, and every time we bring teachers into contact with the Finnish system it is always very inspiring for them,” Mortelmans says.

Since 2004, Van In has been owned by Finnish company Sanoma, and so has good connections in the country. “We cannot just copy the Finnish system because the structure is different, but people come back very enthusiastic about some of the differences they’ve seen and that they can apply in our region.”

Photo: J Galione/Getty Images