Willemijn Zwart is a Dutch teacher and director of Komvoor, an educational design agency that develops ready-made teaching materials, educational excursions, guest lectures and children’s exhibitions on behalf of social organisations, governments and cultural institutions. In addition, she is administratively active at various organizations in the field of language, identity and education and she used to be a teacher trainer.
Photographer: Jellien Tichelaar
She introduced us to Expeditie Vrijheid (“Expedition Freedom”), an educational project of Historical Centre Overijssel. In this project, children discover the meaning of war and freedom in their own neighbourhood, by analysing the concept of heritage.
In 2020, The Netherlands celebrated 75 years of freedom after World War II. At its core, the project aims to teach students about the Second World War by taking their own city or neighbourhood as a starting point. Whilst in the normal history teaching methods, there is a list of frequently shown events and topics that students will learn, such as the bombing of Rotterdam or the history of Anne Frank, usually none of them has a direct relation with the area where they grew up. Therefore, with this teaching practice, students would be able to discover stories of events that happened close to their homes – researching, answering questions, and developing citizenship skills.
Expeditie Vrijheid was developed together with 10 primary schools in the province of Overijssel (in the East of The Netherlands). The schools that participated had different backgrounds – ranging from public to religious schools, as well as a special education one. However, the idea of the project and its materials were later shared with the 500 schools present in the province. In 2020, 188 schools participated, obtaining a great and unexpected success.
To implement the project, the schools made use of digital and physical heritage by getting the children out of the classroom. Digital methods allow students to search online (websites or interactive maps) and physical methods enable students to also search in their own neighbourhood to discover what happened (i.e. going to the train station or a building that had another function at that time, etc.).