What we’ve learned from 10 years of working in the Dutch education system

September, 2021

One of Elemental’s many missions, is to connect the world of vocational education to business reality. To ensure the best results, we have developed a set of new models and approaches specifically for the world of schooling. Our goal is to help transform the Dutch vocational training system so that students, teachers and professionals can engage in inspiring, up-to-date and connected training programmes. We call this goal the NBO: Nieuw Beroeps Onderwijs; Dutch for new vocational education.

Over the years, we have helped top ROC’s (regional centres for vocational education) in key cities around the Netherlands set up several successful new courses, among which the ‘Jean School’, currently ranked among the 100 best fashion schools in the world by industry media. In this blog, we want to share one of the education-specific beliefs we have developed along this journey: The 5 C’s of educational innovation.

The most fundamental difference between our ‘NBO’ approach and the current practice of educational innovation lies in the letter ‘C’. Most traditional school innovation projects centre around the C of Curriculum (or even: that of CREBO, the central national register of accreditation). For sure, a good curriculum is very important and quality should be monitored and guaranteed. However, we have found that putting the curriculum first leads to a focus on paperwork. In our approach, schools develop partnerships with the work communities they serve, to co-create new education programmes geared at impacting the experience and development of the students (and teachers) themselves, focused on five C’s. The central C is that of ‘Character’ (not curriculum), which is supported by four others: Content, Context, Culture and Community.


In our philosophy, Vocational Education serves to develop (young) students personally and professionally: to help them grow as ‘Characters’ who are confident and competent to contribute and thrive, both in working life and in society.



Globalisation, digitisation and other big societal trends are resulting in a higher-paced evolution of work than ever; entire professions appearing out of nowhere or becoming obsolete, sometimes in just a couple of years. This means that – perhaps even more so than in academic education – vocational training programmes must be kept up to date constantly: dynamically. We simply cannot train aspiring professionals in outdated terminology, skills, competencies and expect them to be successful. The speed and nature of these changes are so fundamental traditional ‘updates’ cannot keep up with reality. This means that education and industry must work together to ‘inject’ the most current and up-to-date knowledge, content, experience and case studies into schooling on an ongoing basis. Rather than fictional narratives based on business practices from previous decades, we need engaging content straight from the kitchen, factory, hospital and office. This requires ongoing partnerships rather than stop-start contributions.



Vocational education must move out of the classroom and into reality: physically. Although it may sound like stating the obvious, way too often students mainly learn within the four walls of their school. How can we expect young professionals to be ready for work if they have never seen or experienced it? Students should practice what they preach, meaning learning their profession in a real-life context. All new education programmes should contain ‘on-the-job’ elements, from site visits to assignments and internships ranging from one day to multiple weeks, so that they can observe and experience the reality of their future workplace. Most importantly, they need to understand how their work relates to that of others, as well as that of customers and other stakeholders – rather than in splendid isolation.



Obviously, students need to learn the theory and systems of their prospective jobs. But at least as importantly they need to understand ‘how’ they should work. How do people in a particular field of work talk to each other, what language do they use? What do they wear to work? What time do you have to start? Because of the implicit nature of culture, questions like these can only be answered by interacting with (future) co-workers.


In a recent pilot of the New Tech Business College (a collaboration between ROC Flevoland, ROC of Amsterdam and financial businesses such as Igen, Rabobank and ABN AMRO Clearing), students, together with experts, presented and discussed a range of topical subjects over several weeks. The result: students could experience how professionals interacted with each other, even more than during an internship.



The last C is that of Community. As professionals, entrepreneurs or practitioners, we all know how important it is to have an extensive network. For this reason, an excellent MBO should provide opportunities to contribute to important events in an industry. The Jean School, for example (founded by ROCvA in co-creation with experts from among others G-Star, Levi’s, Denham and Hilfiger) does this by participating in the annual Kingpins denim industry trade fair. First-year students help out at reception, second-year students show off their craft skills and represent the school at their own booth, third-year students do trend research assignments and trawl the event for amazing internships abroad.


So there we are, that makes 5.

  • Central C is that of personal and professional ‘Character’ development.

  • Contemporary Content is the second

  • Then of course: immersion into the work Context and reality

  • Knowing how to interact with co-workers and customers: Culture

  • Lastly: building connections and becoming a part of the professional ‘Community’

Interested to know more about how we do this? Any comments or input? We look forward to hearing from you: please do email us at info@elementalstrategy.com


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