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How Brussels schools are embracing the future of education

Feb 12, 2017
0
Co-creation, smartphones in class and jobs that don’t yet exist - we look at innovation in the classroom

Today’s educators and school administrators face a daunting task. They are expected to offer students a robust education that ticks all the traditional curriculum boxes, while at the same time instilling in children – more technologically savvy than ever – skills and attitudes that will help them thrive in a world in dizzying flux.

It’s estimated that as adults, 65% of today’s children will find themselves employed in jobs that don’t exist today. Today’s digital generation of students, clearly, cannot be taught in the same way as children 50 years ago and need to be engaged in a different way, with different
teaching methods and teaching tools.

Many international schools and higher education institutions in Belgium have tackled these challenges head-on, embracing the opportunities offered by technology to help groom students for an uncertain future, and welcoming the disruptive forces that force them to rethink traditional approaches. Educational technology has long been a booming marketplace, and as once-expensive devices have become increasingly affordable, desktop computers, laptops, smartboards and iPads have begun to creep their way into classrooms.

Tech talk

For school administrators, it can sometimes be tricky to separate useful new software and online tools from those that, in spite of breezy promotional talk, offer no real added value. At the British School of Brussels, administrators rely on the school’s 2020 vision statement – “Enhancing learning using leading-edge technology” – to distinguish between the good, bad and ugly.

“Everything we do links back to this,” explains David Hindley, secondary school deputy head. “If the technology doesn’t enhance learning, then our teachers don’t use it. This ensures a good balance between traditional methods and new technology.”

All the classrooms at the Tervuren school are fitted out with interactive whiteboards with mirror-casting software, which allows students and teachers to project their work so it can be shared and discussed with the entire class. The school also uses a learning platform called eBSB that allows teachers to communicate with students and share technological resources with them.

Depending on the grade they are in, students are issued their own iPad or Windows laptop, or invited to bring in their own device, as this tends to better meet their needs for the chosen courses in the final years of secondary school. “In preparing students for future working life, it’s essential that their IT skills are the best they can be,” Hindley says.

Curriculum changes

Educational innovation is of course not limited to the successful integration of technological tools in the classroom. For some schools, keeping pace with global and societal developments inevitably means making curriculum and teaching method adjustments – from the small to the big.

The Brussels School of International Studies (University of Kent), for instance, is introducing a new foreign policy specialisation with the aim of keeping abreast of recent geopolitical developments. “This specialisation tries to reflect changing centres of gravity from Western Europe, with more emphasis on Asia and other parts of the world, and global change in general,” says academic director Tom Casier.

Casier himself also introduced a new teaching method when he started teaching the school’s EU politics and governance module. The inspiration, he explains, was the realisation that students often struggle to understand the complexity of the EU decision-making process from learning about it through a textbook. Casier tried to remedy this through the introduction of a game at the end of the course. This exercise requires students to play a representative of a EU member state, first extensively researching a country’s likely position on, say, climate change and then presenting and defending this in a three-hour simulation exercise.

“It’s a way of learning by doing,” Casier explains. “It’s really important that they get a sort of real-life experience of how EU decision-making feels, how to do this, how difficult it is, and how it’s a combination of technical and emotional factors, as well as negotiation strategies.”

'Encourage students to be risk-takers'

Other schools have focused on instilling in students an attitude that will help them survive and thrive no matter what lies ahead. One of the key elements of the Bogaerts International School’s focus is to encourage students to think creatively, spokesperson Nicholas Lyddon explains.

The Waterloo school emphasises building creative minds that can adapt to future challenges and find innovative solutions to existing and future problems. “We don’t know what’s going to be around fifteen years from now,” he says, “so one thing we try and promote here is to really encourage students to be risk-takers, and have the ability to evaluate what’s happening and not hesitate to choose better alternatives.”

It’s why most of the classes at Bogaerts start with a concept rather than a set of facts. “Classes at Bogaerts International School are more than simply learning rules and facts,” Lyddon says. “Teachers encourage our students to be active in the search for concepts and relationships, rather than giving the impression that all the answers can be found in a book.”

Tales from the classroom

Learning Innovation Centre, Vlerick Business School

Manager Vincent Baguè: “The internet is transforming many industries, including corporate education. That doesn’t mean that everything non-digital will cease to exist. Instead, our personal and professional lives have become a mixture of digital and non-digital experiences. Vlerick Business School has co-created a learning journey with Dutch conglomerate DSM that embraces this new blended approach by offering a combination of online materials, webcasts and face-to-face workshops to different levels of sales and marketing professionals in the company. By combining selected learning material and digital assets specifically created for the customer, Vlerick aims to deliver an innovative experience that gives the necessary flexibility to DSM’s sales and marketing professionals while generating the anticipated impact for the company. The journey is organised in three channels reflecting the different levels of experience in the organisation. Live moments complement the online lessons, allowing the student to apply it to the concrete situation of their own organisation. We call it learning with impact.”

International School of Brussels

“The mission to ensure that all learners are included, challenged and successful has enabled the International School of Brussels (ISB) to graduate active international citizens with the autonomy and confidence to make a real difference in the world. In an increasingly complex global landscape, one in which people are required to navigate a variety of academic disciplines and career paths, ISB strives to be future-oriented and innovative in its approach to teaching and learning. Educational activities that aim to engage, connect and empower students are the focus of ISB’s programme, ensuring relevance and authenticity in their school lives. Students leverage their ISB education to become creative and collaborative critical thinkers who can communicate with diverse groups of people using a wide range of literacies, digital tools and emerging technologies. Being innovative in today’s schools is no longer a luxury. Learning has to incorporate innovative approaches if students are to become engaged, successful and ethical global citizens in the years to come.”

This article first appeared in ING Expat Time

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