Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs) are developing into an important component of EU Vocational Education and Training (VET) policy. EPALE thematic coordinator Andrew McCoshan reflects on what it means for practitioners in the sector.
The European Commission has recently announced its second call for proposals for Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs). The call and associated mapping exercise sets out what can appear, at first sight, to be a large and daunting agenda. CoVEs are expected to go beyond what we would expect VET to be normally doing. Vocational excellence in CoVEs means embracing a wide range of activities beyond provision that is responsive to labour market needs, e.g. participating in innovation centres and business start-up activities. Furthermore, much of the CovE concept is situated at an ‘institutional’ level, i.e. it involves establishing strong and enduring relationships at both local and transnational levels, contributing to wider frameworks of regional development, innovation and/or smart specialisation strategies, and being part of ‘knowledge triangles’, working closely with other education and training sectors, the scientific community, and business. So what does the concept mean for teachers and trainers?
Teaching and learning is at the heart
Although much of the CoVE documentation talks of partnerships and governance, teaching and learning is at the heart, which places teachers and trainers at its heart as well. As the application guidelines also state:
‘CoVEs will adopt a bottom-up approach to excellence where VET institutions are capable of rapidly adapting skills provision to evolving local needs.’ (p. 5)
Working recently with an Erasmus+ Key Action 2 partnership, with partners from six countries, we elaborated the areas of excellence contained in the mapping study and produced the chart below. This presents teaching and learning at the core, framed by a range of activities requiring cooperation and partnerships, plus appropriate governance and funding arrangements. Innovation and the use of digital learning technologies are prominent features at the core of vocational excellence, and require some further unpacking.
/en/file/areas-vocational-excellenceAreas of Vocational Excellence
Unpacking CoVEs at the practitioner level
There is an emphasis in the CoVE concept on innovative pedagogies and digitalisation to meet environmental, social and economic challenges. Fortunately, those who need to be at its heart – teachers and trainers – are natural innovators: in many ways it’s a core competence. On a daily basis they are required to be innovative and creative, seeking solutions to individual learning issues or having to be quick-thinking when a piece of technology fails and lesson plans have to be changed at short notice.
The CoVE concept requires a systematic exploration and adoption of new pedagogies that also makes the best use of the digital learning tools. Not all pedagogical innovations need digital technologies; and not all digital learning tools lead to innovations in teaching and learning. But, with digital tools already entering so many aspects of our day-to-day lives, teachers and trainers need support at the nexus of innovation and digitalisation.
The innovation-digitalisation nexus
The digital world is providing a bewildering and ever-increasing array of opportunities to enhance learning. And, on the side of pedagogy, the choices can be confusing, as the OECD has pointed out. Some of the potential choices are shown in the chart below. There are no easy one-to-one relationships between pedagogies and digital learning technologies. Teachers and trainers may need support and leadership in the pedagogical innovations they make and the digital tools they select, especially if such efforts are to be directed towards wider strategies for innovation and regional development, which is also a key feature of the CoVE concept.
/en/file/choices-pedagogyChoices of pedagogy
Supporting teachers and trainers through ‘intermediation’
An important concept in information and communications technology is ‘intermediation’ - how users interact with the digital world: what, or who, sits between users and the technology to make it accessible and easy and rewarding to use. Teachers and trainers are likely to benefit a lot from bodies that can ‘intermediate’ in this way, between them and the digital world. There are already inspiring examples of these in Europe, such as, in Spain, the Basque Country’s Tknika and Aragón’s regional Centre for Innovation for Vocational Training of (CIFPA). But maybe we need more such structures to provide investment, inspiration and innovation. In the US, a number of ‘EdTech hotspots’ are emerging across the country. The US situation is distinctive, but maybe there are lessons we can learn in Europe.
Harnessing teachers’ and trainers’ innovative potential
The CoVEs agenda represents something of a ‘call to action’ to the VET community. Different stakeholders have different roles to play. With teachers and trainers so central to vocational excellence, further unpacking of the CoVE concept at practitioner level is likely to be valuable. Meanwhile, it is clear that the CoVE agenda both seeks, and provides an opportunity to harness, direct and organise the natural innovative tendencies of teachers and trainers. At the same time, teachers and trainers themselves are a potential force for bottom-up pressure for vocational excellence within the CoVE framework.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training in Europe for over 30 years as an academic researcher and consultant. He is the main author, for the European Commission, of the Centres of Vocational Excellence mapping study referred to in this blog. He is currently a Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.