Looking to improve the quality of education received by relatively vulnerable learners, Suriname embarked on a reform of its lower secondary vocational education in 2013. VVOB was closely involved in the process, and discovered four key elements of institutionalising change for lasting impact.
Discovering key elements to successful institutionalisation
In South America’s smallest country, Suriname, approximately 37,500 boys and girls are enrolled in lower secondary education, with the vocational stream catering to around 12,000 adolescents. With the aim of better serving this student population and improving educational quality, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture set in motion an in-depth reform in 2013. Restructuring lower secondary vocational education and training (LS VET) was a top priority, as the system in place met neither students’ nor employers’ needs.
The Ministry was keen to see better quality LS VET that is learner-centered and better aligned with the world of work. It was clear from the outset that integrating effective school leadership and teaching practices into the everyday routines of LS VET schools would be absolutely key to the success of the reform agenda. But how to go about institutionalising the necessary change to have a lasting impact?
The Ministry and VVOB accepted the challenge together and found the following elements key to their approach.
➡️ Create the right ethos for improvement
In Suriname, many see LS VET as an option only for so-called “low performing” students. Many are over age and at risk of dropping out, and even experienced teachers may not find it easy to manage and motivate their learners.
In a sub-sector tainted by low expectations and bad press, creating the right ethos for teaching and learning improvement has been foundational. Over several years, the Sub-Directorate for Vocational Education and Training of the Ministry of Education, together with VVOB, invested in a series of (social) media campaigns demonstrating the value of LS VET:
- LS VET teachers and school leaders were celebrated in the national media as “WOW Women” and “LS VET WorkFORCE”
- successfully (self-)employed LS VET graduates like agriculturalist Randy Ams and mechanic Xiomara Felter (banner picture) were presented as role models
- students like Aniel Koendjbiharie were found ready to unravel the image of the ‘LS VET troublemaker’ – see the short video below!
➡️ Set new norms and expectations
Equally crucial was the need to upgrade the teaching profession and to create a shared sense of purpose among educators. To do so, the Ministry and VVOB engaged a broad range of stakeholders in developing professional profiles for school leaders, teachers and student counsellors. By 2016, a solid draft was ready, making explicit for the first time what is expected of these key educators and which competencies they need to acquire and demonstrate.
For school leaders, emphasis was put on known dimensions of effective school leadership, such as enhancing and improving the conditions for teaching and learning, managing the school as an organisation, building relationships in- and outside the school community and ensuring teacher quality.
For teachers, building strong pedagogical content knowledge, collaborating with colleagues, parents and relevant external actors, managing the teaching and learning process in the classroom and workshop, and developing professional behavior through innovation and reflection were put at the core of the professional profile. Importantly, these professional profiles have become the starting point for improved professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders.
➡️ Align professional development to new norms
The National VET Teacher Training Institute – Lerarenopleiding Beroepsonderwijs (LOBO) – used the official teacher professional profile to set minimum standards for their graduates, soon-to-be LS VET teachers. This, too, was done through a consultative process, with representatives from the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, LOBO and the world of work.
The development of the graduate profile marked the kick-off of a larger curriculum redesign process within LOBO that aimed at a better integration of subject content knowledge, occupational competence and pedagogical-didactic competence. With support from VVOB, LOBO lecturers grouped into curriculum design teams to translate the nine core competencies of LOBO graduates into improved modules for all technical areas that LOBO prepares teachers for. Peer-to-peer lesson observations were organised to further foster collegial collaboration and stimulate and improve the implementation of the new LS VET teacher training curriculum.
To strengthen LS VET school leaders, the Ministry’s Sub-Directorate for VET and VVOB decided to pilot geographical professional learning communities (PLCs). PLCs offer a platform for school leaders to regularly discuss pressing issues impacting the wellbeing and learning outcomes of their students, and to learn from each other. Topics such as building strong relationships with parents, (supporting teachers in) handling students’ problem behaviour and mentoring new teachers have been high on the agenda.
➡️ Keep decision-makers closely informed and engaged in change process
PLCs are coordinated by focal people from the national Center for Continuous Professional Development – Centrum voor Nascholing Suriname (CENASU) - and the VET Sub-Directorate. These dedicated individuals play a key bridging role between the Ministry and the schools: they monitor school leader development and training needs in light of the professional profiles. The Sub-Directorate has integrated the management of the PLCs, now in their fourth academic year, into its processes and budget.
By setting new norms for LS VET teachers and school leaders and integrating the professional profiles into initial teacher education and continuous professional development opportunities, they remain relevant and bring the LS VET reform to life at classroom, school and government level.
Growing as a teacher / Growing as a school leader
Wanting to say “thank you” for the years of partnership, but also to give the process of institutionalising the professional profiles an extra boost, VVOB and the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture organised a workshop week for all LS VET teachers and school leaders in Suriname in November. The results of VVOB’s programme in Suriname were shared at the kick-off event, and the rest of the week brought online workshops during which participants could engage with the professional profiles.