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Getting a Master’s and becoming a primary school teacher: it only takes two years now

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From September 2022, students interested in becoming primary school teachers can take the two-year Master’s track MPabo in Utrecht. It’s a trial programme aimed at relieving the shortage of teachers in the Netherlands. Coordinator Luce Claessens says more and more university students are realising that being a teacher enables them to impact children's lives — and thereby, society.

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MPabo students will combine the two-year, English-taught programme Educational Sciences with a shortened programme to become primary school teachers. The track is a collaboration with the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences and the Marnix Academy.

For now, only UU students pursuing the Master’s in Educational Sciences have the opportunity to take this fast track. However, to pursue this Master's, one needs to have completed a Bachelor's in Educational Sciences or taken a minor in Educational Sciences.

Eventually open to other Master’s programmes, too
Coordinator Luce Claessens hopes that, in time, multiple Master’s programmes can be offered in combination with the fast-track teaching programme. “We want to see whether students from other disciplines might also be interested in obtaining a teaching degree next to their Master’s programme.”

The trial is being offered in combination with the Master’s in Educational Sciences is that UU and the universities of applied sciences because of the good experiences the institutions have with the already-existing Academic Teachers Programme, also known as Alpo (short for Academische Leraren Opleiding). This programme offers the option of combining a Bachelor’s in Educational Sciences with a teaching programme.

The new MPabo is more focused on students who become interested in obtaining a teaching license for primary school later in their Bachelor's.

Image issues 
Coordinator Claessens knows teaching does not have a good image in the Netherlands. Not many students are interested in following this career. The salary of primary school teachers has recently been levelled with that of the secondary school teachers, so it remains to be seen whether this will make a difference.

Still, she knows many students who are enthusiastic about teaching. “Thankfully, there’s a fairly large group of students who realise that teachers can have a major societal impact. By following this track, they will not only help reduce the shortage of teachers but also help the development of young children.”

Different points of view
The MPabo was created partially thanks to the so-called Administrative Agreement on the Flexibilisation of Teaching Programmes. In this document, universities, universities of applied sciences and the Dutch Ministry of Education agree to make it easier and faster for students to become teachers in primary or secondary education. The agreement also foresees a budget to make that happen.

Universities in Amsterdam, Leiden, and Rotterdam then decided to create their own two-year Master’s programmes in primary school teaching. UU chose to collaborate with the two teaching programmes in Utrecht.

Moreover, the Utrecht-based programme combines the teaching degree with an existing Master’s in another academic discipline. “We’re looking at a different target group. In Utrecht, we want to give students the opportunity to specialise in a Master’s while also obtaining their teaching license. That makes the license an additional diploma rather than the focus of your Master’s.”

Parent-child conversations
Claessens says academically-educated teachers are an added value for schools as they know which concepts and practices are scientifically tested, and how to apply them. A big part of the programme will focus on this aspect, therefore.

The coordinator says the trick will be to combine this with sufficient attention for practical skills. The courses in the fast track will be offered more concisely, with more focus on didactical skills and pedagogy rather than professional knowledge.

“We’ll spend less time on repeating and reproducing the curriculum. That’s not necessary for academically-schooled students who already have a Bachelor’s. But they do need to learn how to talk to a child, for instance, or how to have a parent-child conversation.”

Spread throughout the two years, the students will have a slightly heavier workload than is common in an academic year, and they’ll have to dedicate one day a week to an internship.

Teaching becomes teamwork
A frequently-asked question is how challenging teaching can be in the long run for academically-schooled students. For how long will they teach? Are there enough options to develop the careers of academically-schooled graduates in primary education?

Claessens says more and more options are being created. “Schools are starting to work more in teams in which the qualities and knowledge of teachers can be put to use.”

Aside from that, it’s a matter of "mass", according to the coordinator. “Once we’ve got more academically-schooled graduates working in schools, it will hopefully become more common to give teachers with scientifically supported expertise more room.”

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