Need to recruit multilingual, creative problem solvers experienced in working in teams and on a wide variety of challenges?
Then Go Dutch.
In 2015, Sophianum school in Gulpen were keen to work with a life sciences research centre in Cambridge. Harriet Fear, CEO of OneNucleus was approached and she worked hard to find an appropriate partner which would commit to a long term and hopefully, symbiotic relationship.
She succeeded - thank you Harriet.
The Babraham Institute accepted the challenge and a team of their scientists are presenting projects, in English, to the students in Gulpen (near Maastricht) as this was typed. The Dutch students are fluent in English and study at least three languages including their own. Communication throughout the exercise continues via email, weekly videos and Skype.
The Sophianum school sits on the border of Belgium and Germany and accepts students from the local area regardless of home address or nationality. They join at 12 and go through to pre-university.
There is a strong International outlook involving links and exchanges with schools in Hong Kong, Canada, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Norway and Spain. Despite their best efforts it has proved very difficult to maintain links with English schools.
Students engaged in their national Technasium scheme are required to respond to real life challenges set by a company or institution. This is not extra-curricular or an add on. It is very firmly part of the school's approach and is nationally managed.
Dutch education has undergone some major changes in recent years. The Technasium approach recognises the demand for students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to ensure they can contribute and be happy as global citizens in the 21st century. The course called, Research and Design, places an emphasis on research, communication and team skills.
In 2016 the projects involved three diverse challenges set by the Babraham Institute, all of which developed in conjunction with staff in the Institute’s animal facility and related to the Institute’s openness about their use of animals in research:
Challenge 1: Design a solution to allow the top and bottom rows of cages in a rack to be efficiently checked with the minimum of risk to the technician.
Challenge 2: Communication between units in the facility
Challenge 3: Investigating legislation and public opinion
The projects for 2017 included a repeat of Challenge 1 from 2016, with new projects relating to the Institute’s research and one of its science facilities. During the exercise the competencies of each team member are reviewed as they develop their own skills and support the group process. Assessing collaborative activity is notoriously difficult but the Technasium approach is innovative and works. 50% of the final grade is awarded for process actions - how effective they are at managing and executing the research and design activity. The review involves an assessment team, self-assessment, peer review and teacher assessment.
None of the elements of Technasium are unique but the combination is globally, uncommon. Key factors are that each school accepts and commits to the ethos, and the firmly evidence based, learning approaches required. Teachers are carefully selected and given specific training in teaching and ‘scaffolding’ creative problem solving – not all teachers have the attributes necessary.
The assessment methods employed also recognise that traditional methods are inappropriate. Students peer review their work and teachers grade and approve attainment in key and transferable competencies using an established, carefully devised, European Union (EU) scheme. The competencies are hierarchical, accumulate, and can be used to support university and employment applications.
Of the eight EU competencies, three are key: Learning to learn - the ability to effectively manage one’s own learning, either individually or in groups, Social and civic competencies and a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship.
In Sophianum the curriculum is broad and balanced and the accommodation for the Technasium groups is new and inviting. An industrial design facility including 3D printers, systems and electronics kit and hand tools, together with well-equipped science facilities, ensure that students are using up to date, appropriate equipment. The students are fortunate and enthusiastic. The Babraham Institute should be commended for their wisdom in engaging with this. Why? Because the writer of this article has experience of students tackling real life, company inspired projects, including one (from a Dutch company) which was adopted and resulted in a significant increase in production for a medical device. Collaboration enriches us all.
Our young people are creative and able – they only need to be offered the opportunities. Harriet, Mike and their teams are inspiring our scientists and technologists of the future - we need them!
The Technasium Network
Babraham Institute Report on the Project
Sophianum School, Technasium
EU Lifelong Learning key competences
Malcolm Moss with the support of Sophianum School