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Heritage language education now part of Brainport's vision for internationalization in schools

Interview with Mieke Zijlstra from Brainport

March 17, 2020

Brainport has recently renewed its vision for internationalization of schools in the Brainport region. One change of interest to the HLSE network is that the new vision now promotes awareness of heritage language education.


But what is "Brainport " and what does the inclusion of heritage language education in its vision mean for HLSE? We reached out to Mieke Zijlstra to find out. She has worked for two years at Brainport Development as the "Project Leader for Internationalization of Education in Brainport."


People who live in Eindhoven have heard of "Brainport," but what is it exactly?

Geographically, the Brainport region consists of 21 municipalities in Southeast Brabant, from Reusel-De Mierden to the border with Limburg. Stichting Brainport was founded in the 90s, when – after several decades of economic prosperity – Philips and DAF almost went bankrupt. Three individuals came together to try to turn it all around: Rein Welschen (the mayor of Eindhoven), Theo Hurks (Director KvK) and Henk de Wilt (Chairman Executive Board TU/e)


The best way to think of Brainport is as a "triple helix" cooperation between the fields of government, business, and education. There are currently fifteen men and women on the board of Stichting Brainport, who are responsible for forming a cohesive strategy and vision on behalf of the member municipalities, companies, and educational and knowledge bodies.


What is the difference between Brainport (the stichting) and "Brainport Development"?

Brainport Development is the economic development agency for the Brainport Region, based in Eindhoven. It is the non-profit organization that executes programs and projects in line with the economic strategy set forth by Stichting Brainport.


Where is Brainport Development located?

Our office moved from the city center to Strijp-TQ last July, and we have about 50 to 70 people working for us.


Where does the topic of education fall within Brainport Development?

Brainport Development has several divisions: strategy, marketing, business support for start-/scale-ups, and the Brainport International Program. I work in the division called "People" where the focus is on developments in the labor market (talent attraction for tech companies, life-long learning, etc.) and education.


How can an agency like Brainport Development have an influence on educational policies in the region?

Officially, we are not responsible for and do not have any formal influence on educational policies of schools. We have no authority to tell schools what they must do. Schools themselves can do what they wish within the guidelines set forth by the national government.


That being said, what we can do is say – always on behalf of all of our stakeholders – what we as a region believe is important when it comes to the education of our children: in Brainport, we value having innovative schools. That is of course a broad vision, so together with all of the schools we split it into four areas: creativity, entrepreneurship, technology, and internationalization.


Internationalization in education is one of my focus projects. The Brainport region has already had a vision for the internationalization of schools since 2016, but we recently met with schools and other stakeholders across the Brainport region to renew our vision.


What is Brainport's vision for internationalization?

It is a common misconception that our focus is only on getting children to learn English – it goes much beyond that! Our aim is that within five years, all primary, secondary, vocational schools and child care organizations in Brainport have incorporated internationalization into their policies along three lines, and are working on implementing the policies in concrete terms. The three lines are (1) language skills, (2) global citizenship (wereldburgerschap), and (3) intercultural communication and cooperation.


With language skills we are talking not only about English lessons, but also NT2 (Dutch as a Second Language) lessons and mother tongue lessons ("heritage language education"). We have seen the research that shows that there are benefits for children who maintain their mother language, so we now will include this in our activities.


Why are these types of policies needed?

We see that international families no longer come only temporarily to Eindhoven. There are of course still families who are here temporarily, and for them they are eligible to attend the international school with education in English. But now there are more and more families who come here and do not know how long they will stay. They are employed on a local contract with no end date. Not only are these families not always eligible to enroll their children in the international school, but a fully English program is also not always the best option for them. We want to help regular Dutch schools be equipped to help this new type of family.


Also, internationalization is important for all children: not only for the children of international families, but for the Dutch children as well. And with "international" we include all types of non-Dutch families: not only the knowledge workers, but also refugees and migrant workers. Everyone should be taken into account.


How does Brainport Development communicate its vision and expectations to schools?

We give presentations to schools about what we believe should be prioritized. Schools are very open to the ideas. They are aware that the population of their schools are changing, and they see the foreigners arriving – not only in Eindhoven itself but also in the surroundings areas. 


We also have two regional coordinators for internationalization of education who are experienced in implementing internationalization in their own schools. These coordinators are available to support other schools, not only with developing a policy on internationalization but also with implementing internationalization in terms of specific activities.


In addition, we organize events such as "Drinks with an international tone" and "mini-conferences." We are also developing a professionalization program for Dutch schools so they can request funding for the professional development of their teachers, for instance for training about NT2 or how to manage intercultural awareness.


How does Brainport Development view its partnership with HLSE?

As a part of our renewed vision and activities, we now explain to schools why heritage language education is important and we encourage them to incorporate it into their educational policies. This is in line with HLSE's mission to help the community understand the importance of mother tongue education.


We also want to give HLSE opportunities to spread your message at our events. For instance two HLSE representatives recently gave a presentation at our mini-conference in February, Look Who's Talking. Brainport Development has also helped support and promote the HLSE Symposium 2020, Meertalige Kinderen: Wat doe je ermee?


HLSE helps us in our mission as well. The fact that you have created a support network makes it easier for us to reach all of the schools. You have developed a single contact point so that we do not have to separately contact over 20 different language programs! It is convenient for us to be able to tell Dutch schools, "HLSE has information about the available programs" – and it is a good sign to Dutch schools that you all are cooperating with each other.


When will your new vision be finalized?

There will be an official kick-off session presenting the new vision, at which time details will be made available to the public.