How the Film Catalogue ‘Open Project Education’ originated

By Anne-Ruth Wertheim

In 1973 a group of teachers started working together on a special educational reform: ‘Open Project Education’. We were all teachers at the Wagenings Lyceum and had earned our spurs in the traditional teaching of subjects: our pupils had good marks for their final exams and we could have left things the way they were. But we felt, some more than others, that we had short-changed our pupils in the way we taught them. The consumptive methods used in education, with us in front of the class and pupils at their desks, lesson after lesson, did not teach them how they could research the world for themselves and did not teach them at all to work together.

We decided to start participating in each other’s lessons and, step-by-step, we created an educational practice in which we supervised the pupils in their own chosen research which they did in groups they had selected themselves as well. And once we had gained a certain amount of experience in this way of teaching each other and our pupils, we started spreading our methods to other schools. Especially to schools with pupils from the less privileged echelons of society.

The development of this ‘Open Project Education’ lasted until 1989 and in the sixteen years since the beginning, numerous films were made in which you can see how pupils went to work and how we teachers supervised them. But all these films – recorded on large Umatic cassettes which were commonly used at the time – were lost in later years. Until 2005, when former vice principle, maths teacher Johan Marteijn, who had always enthusiastically taken part in the projects, found them again during the preparation for a new building for the Het Wagenings Lyceum. And now they are accessible digitally via the website of the International Institute for Social History (Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis (IISG)).

Since 2005, we have been busy providing the film recordings with text and explanations, with support from the International Institute of Social History, so that they can be used by the education reformers of today, for instance as part of ‘New Learning’ or ‘Learning Naturally’.

Inspired by the film recordings, we have also updated and optimized slide sound images from the Open Project Education period. In this way, three renewed DVD’s have been created:

  • Pupils learn to do research, ‘The Points Lists Method’
  • The goose snatches the bread from the ducks, my childhood in a Japanese prison camp on the isle of Java
  • I went there myself, Children in Nicaragua.

In our opinion, these renewed DVD’s require background information and that is how the texts came about:

  • Principles, Characteristics and Objectives of Project Education
  • Accompanying text to the DVD ‘Working with the Points Lists Method’
  • The Basic List of Notions, a way of preparing the pupils for their research.

While we worked, our understanding of the importance of all this (historic) material grew. In this Catalogue, we describe all the film material, with which we are making the Open Project Education archive at the International Institute of Social History more accessible for interested parties. A treasure trove of written information can also be found in the archive.

We are glad that the National Education Museum and the Museon have added the digital versions of the image material to their collections.

Finally, we would like to thank all teachers, pupils and any others who were involved for their work during the Open Project Education; this valuable film material is partly thanks to them.


In the films, which are described in Part 1 and Part 2 of this Catalogue, you can see images from the Open Project Education which was developed between 1974 and 1989.
This took place at Het Wagenings Lyceum in the Dutch city of Wageningen followed by other schools: School community Oost-Betuwe in the town of Bemmel, LHNO (home economics) school De Sprong in the city of Nijmegen, the Keizer Karel College in the city of Amstelveen and MAVO school (lower general secondary education) De Witte Raaf in the city of Utrecht.
The schools are named in most of the images.

In Open Project Education, alongside the ordinary school subjects part of the school’s working week is reserved for projects. In an open project, the pupils choose their own research, which they then set up themselves, carry out and present. The research is carried out in groups of a few pupils, usually four to five. Each group is supported by one or two teachers.

When choosing the subjects, we initially endeavour to group them under an umbrella theme, so that the research of the pupils overlaps with other groups and ideally, the final presentation becomes more or less a single coherent entity. Later the umbrella theme is let go of and other methods are developed to guarantee some cohesion.

The support by five or six teachers is carefully organized. On one hand, they have to be well informed about what the pupils are researching; on the other hand they have to watch out that they do not take over the research of the pupils. One solution for this dilemma is that each group is supported by two teachers both of which support another group of pupils.

The length of the project may differ per school. In Wageningen, we worked in two project blocks of three lessons per week from the beginning, sometimes in three project blocks of two lessons. Occasionally a project was given a whole day per week.
A project lasted from the autumn half-term until the Easter holiday. Other schools used different timescales for the projects.

The lessons dedicated to the Open Project Education, were provided by the participating teachers who sacrificed one lesson of their own subject to it.
In some cases, the usual annual curriculum for the subject was adapted, in other cases, the curriculum was covered in less time.
The teachers in question and the parents of the pupils who choose this form of education took responsibility for condensing the curriculum.

In Part 1, you will find descriptions of whole films; these films are now on DVD.
Part 2 contains a series of film fragments of original recordings, partly included in the whole films.
In Part 3 a number of texts about Open Project Education, which have been updated in recent years.
In Part 4 are the appendixes: summaries of all films and film fragments for a quick overview and information about the Foundation to Promote Social Emancipation (Stichting MEP).

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