Virtual reality enters education

Vocational and technical education schools in particular will be able to work more with virtual reality starting next year. The educational project, for which Education Minister Ben Weyts is making €6.5 million available, can count on the interest of the burgeoning Flemish educational technology sector.

Starting next school year, vocational and technical schools will be able to buy hardware like virtual reality goggles or borrow them for free. There will also be custom software to use in class. Thomas More University of Applied Sciences will inventory existing software and make it available. In addition, resources are provided to train subject teachers, technical advisors, and coordinators. The Flemish Minister for Education, Ben Weyts (N-VA), is making €6.5 million available for this.

The essence

  • The Flemish Minister of Education, Ben Weyts, invests 6.5 million euros in virtual reality. The focus is on career and technical education.
  • The money will be used to buy VR glasses. Resources are also used to select and create software. Teachers and other stakeholders receive guidance.
  • In Flanders, a sector is emerging that focuses on educational technology. Pilot projects show how virtual reality facilitates the transfer of learning material.

underwater welding

A survey by Thomas More and Ghent University shows that three-quarters of teachers are eager to get started with virtual reality (VR). “We’re still behind in VR, but with this plan we’re turning that backlog into an advantage,” says Weyts.



We’re still lagging behind in VR, but with this plan we’re turning that lag into an advantage.

Ben Weyts

Flemish Minister of Education

Virtual reality applications are relatively rare in technical and vocational schools, while they have enormous potential in job market-oriented education. Students can get acquainted with the latest assembly techniques with VR goggles, do real-life fire drills, or learn how to weld a pipe underwater. “VR immerses students in situations that are impossible or even dangerous in an ordinary classroom,” says Weyts’ cabinet.

Schools should buy less expensive machines, because in VR students can practice with all new and advanced devices. If a student makes a mistake in virtual reality, no real machine breaks. Students can also experience situations through the eyes of another person, so that they better understand certain actions.

Ecosystem

Agoria Vlaanderen encourages investment. CEO Jolyce Demely sees an entire ecosystem developing around educational technology. The Agoria Edtech & Learntech Club, a group of companies involved in both traditional education and corporate learning processes, includes big names like Signpost, Fourcast for Education and Barco, but also young companies like spin-off PlayIt of Howest. Public investment can boost this burgeoning sector and help companies break into edtech internationally.



The pandemic has accelerated. Although just teaching through Teams is not edtech in and of itself.

jolyce demely

Managing Director Agoria Flanders

“Recently, some thirty Flemish companies went to the edtech mecca, the BETT exchange in London, where they explored the possibilities of new technologies for technical and vocational education,” says Demely. ‘The pandemic led to an acceleration in that area. Although just teaching through Teams is not edtech in and of itself.’

Realistic

Ghent-based company SupportSquare, a member of the Agoria Edtech & Learntech Club, applies virtual and augmented reality to “bring technical employees to their full potential quickly,” says co-founder and CEO Ben Mahy. ‘The good thing is that this technology makes it possible to transfer information in a very realistic way.’

Now the focus is on virtual reality goggles in which the wearer is completely immersed in a virtual world, but in the long term, Mahy also envisions these devices blending virtual information with the physical environment. ‘The manufacturing industry is an important part of the market, as are the builders of complex machines.’ SupportSquare’s customers include medical device manufacturer Baxter, industrial equipment manufacturer Atlas Copco and engineering group GEA.



Students immediately see the connection between what they do and what the consequences are.

Ben Mahy

CEO Support Square

“There’s also a lot of potential in education,” says Mahy. His company has already invested heavily in pilot projects. He developed a module on construction site safety for a number of schools in East Flanders. Students can also connect homes to the sewer system in virtual reality. ‘They immediately see the connection between what they do and what the consequences are.’

Recordings can be made for later evaluation, but students can also be directly assisted during the exercise. The company is now collaborating with the construction industry training fund Constructiv on a wider range of training courses. Mahy expects a lot from this type of collaboration with organizations in the sector.

The tender for the project in the TSO and the BSO will be launched this year. If the project is successful, it can be extended to other educational sectors, including adult education, says Minister Weyts’ cabinet.

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