Interview with Marcel Voorhoeve and the qualification for refugee teachers to teach in the Netherlands.
After spending most of his life as a teacher of mathematics and physics and deputy headmaster of a secondary school, Marcel Voorhoeve founded the organization DVDK (Docentvluchteling voor de Klas) or “Teacher refugee for the Classroom”.
In collaboration with the Dutch Association of Mathematics Teacher and VluchtelingenWerk Nederland (the Dutch Council for Refugees), the volunteers of DVDK are working to ensure that refugee teachers are able to carry out their profession also in the Netherlands.
On the occasion of the Education Day 2023, Broken Chalk decided to talk with Marcel Voorhoeve about his experience, the creation of DVDK and the suggestions he would give to others who might want to get involved in the promotion of the “teaching of refugee teachers”.
Can you tell me about your background?
“I was born in the South, in Maastricht, my age is 67 at this moment, I have been studying in the Utrecht University mathematics and physics. It was a five years study and after that it was possible to get the license in order to be a teacher. Then I started to look for a job in education, which was not quite easy at that time… Finally I got one in Utrecht, I became a teacher at a Roman Catholic school and I started teaching physics”.
After that, Marcel became a math teacher and in the middle of the 1980s, with the development of computers, he also started to give informatic classes. According to him, it was a quite interesting time for the educational system, as new ideas about how to teach mathematics were emerging.
“At Utrecht university the department was developing new ideas about mathematics education. For several projects our school was an “experimental school” and it was very interesting also for me because it allowed me to develop as a good teacher”.
“In a lot of countries mathematics is something you have to learn and to do, but doing is the most important thing… This approach doesn’t help very much in developing your own thinking, which is only possible when you have time to try things by yourself, obviously with the help of a good teacher.”
After being a teacher for the majority of his life, the last 15 years of his career Marcel was a member of the board of the school. Finally, the last four years before stopping to work, he was teaching at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam at the teacher training department. He found himself back teaching mathematical subjects, in particular statistics, and the didactics of mathematics to young students who wanted to become math teachers.
How did you come up with the idea of DVDK?
“I stopped working three years ago, around the beginning of Corona time, but I liked my work very much. My partner and I started to travel for a moment…. In the month of January, after Christmas, I was thinking about what I could be doing. Waiting for the next trip was not satisfying to me”.
One day, Marcel decided to go to Plan Einstein, a place developed by the municipality of Utrecht and VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, an organization which is helping refugees for the reception and integration in the city. By talking with an employee, Marcel was introduced to a Turkish refugee who was a math teacher in his country and really wanted to be teaching again. The only problem was that he knew nothing about the Dutch language and about mathematics teaching and the school system in Holland.
“We became friends, I helped him with language, to understand the educational system. Then he told me that he was a member of a Whatsapp group of about 100 math teachers from Turkey that fled from their country because they had a problem with the political developments in Turkey and they had no possibility anymore to be teaching there.”
At the same time, Marcel explained, Holland is affected by a highly problematic shortage of math teachers.
This creates a paradoxical situation: in a country with fewer and fewer teachers, there are competent refugee teachers who may be able to help the host community and at the same time exercise the profession they love and have chosen.
The idea of DVDK came from this paradox. With the help of the Foundation of Maths Teachers in Holland and the organization VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, Marcel started a project with the aim of helping teachers from abroad become teachers in the Netherlands.
“In theory all those refugees from Turkey are allowed to teach in our schools as they have a license compatible with the Dutch education system. However, of course the language is problematic, also the Dutch educational system and even the way mathematics is taught in Holland differs enormously from Turkey, Iran or Syria… We heard a lot from these math teachers, who were not happy with the existing projects at other universities, and we thought that we could think about a good idea to make it better.”
“We made a plan, that we sent it to the ministry of education, about a good structured way of helping refugees from abroad starting at the moment they arrive in Holland, helping them to value their certifications and licenses in Holland, and preparing them to become a teacher in a fast and enduring way.”
In February 2022, a group of 15 teachers, 13 math teachers and two IT teachers started a course at University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, based on the ideas of DVDK.
(Picture: Two IT teachers are instructed by their teacher in didactics of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
How does DVDK work practically?
According to DVDK trainings about the language, didactics and the school system in Holland are only one part of what DVDK is doing, called “Period Two”.
In fact, he stressed how these refugees coming to the Netherlands have an urgent need for a phase that must precede this type of training.
“These refugees when they come to Holland should know the language before they can start this Period Two. We want to start immediately after they have their status or sometimes even before they are getting the status. In the asylum centers they are not allowed to do a course or to practice the Dutch language… This is terrible and demotivating. Of course there are of course and actions volunteers organize but at this moment no structured help for asylum teachers. A fast start will help these refugee teachers to make a motivating beginning with investigating and developing things for their new future.”
“Our idea, and we call it Period One, is that when a teacher from abroad is coming to Holland, it is necessary to offer something to this person. We think that it is very important to do it from the beginning because this gives the possibility that refugees can be motivated to do good things for their own lives.”
(Picture: In June 2022 the team of Hogeschool Utrecht and members of the projectgroup DVDK (Docentvluchteling voor de Klas) congratulated the participants with their first part of the course)
In addition, according to Marcel, it is also necessary to provide an orientation about what education in Holland concretely means, because refugees may have little or no idea of what it means to be a teacher in the Netherlands.
“We also think that it is really important to begin practicing the language a little bit. We developed a kind of website where we offer Dutch lessons. In addition, the tasks, exercises and content in these lessons are profession orientated, so the context and tasks are linked to the profession of the teacher. This design highly motivates the refugees. A lot of teachers are really teachers by heart and giving them the possibility to attend these lessons is also a way of saying to them that they are welcome in our country and math community and that we want to help them.”
In this sense DVDK is the only organization of the country having developed ideas and materials in this first period.
Finally, Marcel told me about the Third Period of the training. This final part has to be put into practice when math teachers start to have their first job as a lot of coaching is still needed.
“Even when the language is quite ok, and even when the didactics is fine, the teacher will have to develop him or herself in the new school context and needs a lot of help. In particular for the language, for instance when feedback on writing emails or letters to parents or on designing a good task or test for students…”
If you had to give advice to other people in the field of education, which are the main difficulties that need to be overcome and how to do it?
“Several things… First of all, the participants should spend a lot of time, which is possible when you truly believe in the idea and when you have a group of persons and organizations who also believe in the idea. It is also important to have good cooperation. I can say that with the people that are now involved in the project, we actually became some kind of friends. This also helps to deal with the ups and downs which a project always meets.
Secondly, DVDK investigated whether the structure of the project is also applicable for other subjects. We discovered that also teachers of physics, chemistry, technics and informatics because of the lack of teachers also need creative ideas to recruit new teachers. They intend to connect and this means that DVDK will expand and really contribute to providing an increasing number of good teachers. This is an example of our policy: involve as much as organizations and participants with the goal to make as much expertise available as possible. And, thirdly, there is a lot of expertise and ‘power of people’ available. Expertise in language didactics (CLIL), in math didactics especially for teachers, in coaching of teachers from abroad, etc. DVDK is happy with the contribution of universities and especially the Hogeschool Utrecht who educated our first group. And now we are waiting for our Ministry of Education. Our efforts resulted in the commitment of our new minister to a structured approach and the financial needs. Our voluntary work will go on!”
(Picture: Group of 15 teacher-asylants who started a course at Hogeschool Utrecht in February 2022)