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Final report preliminary research monitoring circularity in vocational education

What does a monitor look like that should measure circularity in education? With this main question, Learning for Tomorrow stepped to the research bureau CINOP. A preliminary study had to find out how we measure circularity and when it is feasible for schools, then with the right knowledge develop a monitor.

This has two purposes:

1. Gain insight into the national impact of the Circular Skills program.
2. To measure the status of circularity in vocational education (vmbo, mbo and hbo), in order to give schools tools and to embed sustainability in policy. (p5).

To answer the main question, CINOP organized, among other things, three roundtable discussions. The participants consisted of experts in the field of circularity, education experts and potential users of the monitor. Based on these discussions and prior literature research, a recommendation was made.

One of the conclusions CINOP drew was the use of the Whole School Approach (WSA) as a framework. 'The expectation is that an approach based on the WSA can count on support among the stakeholders given the integrality of the WSA as well as the fact that the model is already known in the Netherlands.' (p11).

In order for the WSA flower to connect well with the monitor, CINOP made three more additions:

Task of vocational education - The leaves on the stem of the flower stand for two tasks that emphasize how the circular economy, sustainability and education are intertwined. One leaf represents the vocational task, the second leaf is about the social task of the MBO for example by developing a sustainable attitude in students.
Flexibility and rigidity - It is important for educational institutions to take advantage of the freedom and flexibility that exists, to look for the space that the system provides, and to try to loosen rigidity where possible. For example, "curriculum" has the flexibility of electives and method freedom.

Rooting in the region - Just as a flower is rooted in its environment and is in touch with it and feels what is going on, so too the institution is connected to the region and external parties. The institution feeds the labor market and the labor market feeds the school. Schools must be in touch with regional partners to ensure that they connect to the bigger picture and to what is going on in society and on the labor market. (p12,13).

CINOP also examined what makes a monitor valuable to users. Based on the roundtable discussions, they formulated a number of principles:

Visibility - To see how schools contribute to a sustainable economy and society. The monitor should provide visibility to increase results and improve quality. This can be in the form of a dashboard with numbers but also by, for example, best practices. (p45).

Boosting - The monitor also aims to encourage schools of secondary vocational education to think about and provide inspiration for their role in relation to sustainability and circularity. What opportunities does the institution have to contribute to the transitions that society is and will be undergoing? The monitor must motivate schools to get to work on this from a positive perspective. It is therefore important that there is no emphasis on accountability or on comparison, because every school goes through its own process and contexts differ. (p46).

Getting started - By means of its indicators, the monitor maps out the elements that educational institutions can respond to. This makes it clear which buttons schools can specifically turn in order to make an impact, and they do not have to reinvent the wheel. (p46).

Progress - The monitor should not be exclusively intended as a snapshot of a particular school whether they are doing well or not, but rather focuses on the development of circular education. What is good and what is not good is subjective and depends on the context including the type of education, regional labor market needs. Indicators can therefore best reveal what contributes to the goal. (p47).

Flexible - We are in the middle of several transitions (transition to a circular economy, the energy transition and the transition to a sustainable society in general). This means that society, and therefore the labor market, is changing rapidly. To be able to continue to respond to this as a school, flexibility in the supply is crucial. The monitor explicitly includes indicators that promote flexible education, for example, the use of electives, the use of learning-working places, or career orientation and guidance. (p47).

Sustainable economy and society - Defining what does or does not fall under sustainability and/or a circular economy remains challenging. Is this about climate change, production chains, raw material consumption, biodiversity, or also inclusion of vulnerable groups and good working conditions? No unequivocal answer or desire emerges from the round tables and literature. The message invariably remains: 'it depends'. The monitor must make the discussion about defining this accessible. What task does the institution and/or programme see for itself in relation to the vocational training and social task? (p47).

Today and Tomorrow - Short-term and long-term priorities often clash. For example, short-term regional needs such as the shortage of technicians which argues that institutions and training programs should focus fully on them. At the same time, participants talk about the development of a sustainable basic attitude among all students even in less relevant professions. The monitor will therefore make both short- and long-term priorities visible, ensuring that the institution responds to today's needs but does not lose sight of tomorrow's needs. (p48).

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