In December 2019, the Foundation for Cooperation on Vocational Education, Training and Labour Market in the Netherlands (SBB) published its fifth monitor report on the uptake of elective modules in Dutch VET. SBB concludes that, in 2019, over 1 000 elective modules were formally registered by SBB; every three months 20 new ones are added. No fewer than ninety percent of them found their way into curricula offered by VET schools.
Since the school year 2016/17, all VET learners have had the option to construct their own learning trajectory. All VET curricula have been divided into three segments: a mandatory general section common to a number of sector-related curricula (50% of study time); a mandatory occupation-specific section (35%); and 15% of the study time for personalised options.
Elective modules were introduced to enrich study programmes, aiming to deepen and broaden learning, to prepare learners for further studies, and better link schools with regional labour market needs. Elective modules can also enable students to explore and pursue their personal aims. Based on the fact that elective modules focusing on general education subjects (including foreign languages, health & safety, entrepreneurship, mathematics, ICT skills) are in greater demand, it seems that learner choices mainly aim to address their own needs.
The 15% of study time devoted to elective modules suggests that each student can select a limited number of such modules. However, according to the SBB 2019 monitor report, around two-thirds of all VET learners in EQF level 3 and 4 programmes, which are the most popular ones, can select at least two elective modules. The fact that the number of options is gradually growing can be explained by the way elective modules are introduced in school curricula.
Although the benefits of elective modules are well-advocated, their introduction into a VET programme is complex. More options mean that more classroom and learning facilities are needed, class schedules have to be more flexible, and specially trained teachers from other departments have to be available. First experiences brought many VET schools to the conclusion that gradual introduction in terms of the number and variety of options is advisable; in consequence they play it by ear. Introducing elective modules in the dual track caused another concern. On average, VET learners in dual courses go to school only one day per week, so the general feeling is that there is already too little time for classroom teaching.
The effect of elective modules on the basic organisational structure of VET programmes caused some school directors to suggest reorganising the traditional structure they have had since the 19th and 20th centuries. Although concrete suggestions are still lacking, the need is evident.
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