Cees van der Vleuten inspired by Wynand Wijnen
He has three idols, each for different reasons, says Cees van der Vleuten, professor of Educational Development. “But because Observant is forcing me to choose one, it will have to be Wynand Wijnen.” This educational innovator, advocate of PBL and one of the founding fathers of Maastricht University “showed me the value of student-centred education”.
“I studied psychology in Tilburg and trained to be a researcher. I was armed to the teeth with scientific knowledge when I came to work in Maastricht in 1982. I was critical of everything and knew very little about education. Wynand Wijnen was the leader here. He trained for the priesthood but gave it up just before he was to be ordained and took up the study of psychology. The fundamental human values were ingrained in him to such an extent that he felt he had to take them to the world of education. He talked about the good in people, in this case the students. That we had to have faith in them and that self-discovery, self-managing, working together and acting professionally were important.” Van der Vleuten laughs, he was very sceptical at that time: “But damn it, it worked. That was an eye-opener for me.” He was converted, and he isn’t the worst for it. He holds the Wijnen chair and has done so for some time. Until now he has supervised more than seventy PhD students and is at the top of the publication and citation lists.
But there is more: “I have become more human as a scientist than I was. It goes without saying that academics have to be very critical and slash where necessary. At the same time, you are contributing towards the growth of young people so empathy, support, listening and mentorship work better. I learned all that from Wynand. I saw how he was with people: he asked questions, supported, and listened. He was a master in discussions: he could spit out five different points of view, just like that. He had a broad mind.” Van der Vleuten refers to a PBL course that he gave two weeks ago at a medical faculty in Saudi Arabia that has embraced the Maastricht system. “Our philosophy is that we give students responsibility. In a hall in the traditionally hierarchical Saudi Arabia, there were medical students on a stage while lecturers and other interested parties asked questions. Many of the questions expressed distrust, but these students defended the education system with the same passion that I have seen in our Maastricht students. Then I think: well done Wynand Wijnen.”
This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most