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The LEARN! Annual Report 2021 is now published

30 May 2022
2021 was the second year of the pandemic, and the majority of our events and meetings were organized online. Our work continued to address the consequences of the pandemic for education with an evaluation of catch-up programmes in primary and secondary education in the Netherlands. The evidence of increasing inequality is growing, enhanced by school closures which have disproportionally affected children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At the institute we have contributed to various national and international advisory bodies and discussed the ways in which education systems can address these inequalities and “build back better.” In the Netherlands, we were part of the outbreak management team in education, which published a number of evidence pieces; for example, on how to address socioemotional well-being of pupils. We also contributed to the Impact-team of the National Council for Primary Education, which provided input to the government’s strategy for the national education recovery plan. International outreach included a number of panel contributions, keynotes and round tables (all online) to share best practices for reducing learning loss and increasing the resilience of standardized assessment systems. Our COVID-related work over the past two years has increased our national visibility as a research institute, and we have added “educational inequality” as a more prominent research theme across our five programmes. 

An important part of this agenda is the start of a new master’s degree for primary school teachers (EMPO) and our involvement in the national committee on teacher training, as well as research-practice partnerships to improve reading outcomes in Amsterdam (see section on Learning Sciences). We are continuing to raise our international profile and our collaborative efforts through Professor van Atteveldt’s prominent role as co-chair of the UNESCO MGIEP International Scientific Evidence-based Education (ISEE) Assessment. Furthermore, Anne de Bruijn and Femke van der Wilt both acquired a competitive van der Gaag grant for an extended visit to an international lab, while Anouk Wouters was appointed honorary lecture at University College London. In 2021, a team of colleagues led a European consortium with partners in early childhood education (e.g., Step By Step Foundation and UNICEF in Romania; Trust for Social Achievement in Bulgaria) in working on a Horizon Europe application and sharing expertise. We aimed to share these international experiences in 2021 through a series of conversations to celebrate our international work. These conversations included brief talks from colleagues about their research in other countries in which they spoke about cultural differences and their insights gained from working abroad. These conversations, however, saw very low partipcant numbers and were discontinued. As 2021 was the second year of online working, many colleagues felt a general fatigue for online meetings and webinars towards the end of the year, which was evident in the declining number of participants at online events. Positive outliers were our annual conference and research seminars; these continued to see good attendance with fruitful discussions. 

The lack of opportunities for face-to-face contact also had a a disproportionate impact on our PhD students, particularly those in their final stages who would normally travel to conferences to present their work and start building their professional networks for future careers after completion. PhD students also felt isolated with limited opportunities for informal contact with supervisors and colleagues. As PhD work tends to be very individual and on single projects, particularly for full time students, they were struggling. We have tried to support them by organizing on-site lunches with limited numbers and day-of testing, and we will continue these lunches now that restrictions have lifted. We have also organized a number of workshops to help them (and others) think about how to extend professional networks online and build the research consortia required for large-scale proposals and grants.

As we move out of the pandemic, we will look for a good mix of on-site and online events; the latter will allow us to continue inviting international colleagues for talks during our research seminars. Given the network-nature of our institute, more face to face meetings to share expertise informally is vital to enhance our interdiscplinairy work. We look forward to organizing these again. 

Our COVID website: www.researchinstitutelearn.nl 

Our YouTube channel 

Our wider work: www.vu.nl/learn 

LEARN! is an interdisciplinary research institute on learning in an institutional and societal context. We study learning and development and the context in which people learn and develop. 

Professor Dr. Melanie Ehren 

Director of LEARN!

Read the full report here.