When the pandemic struck in early 2020, almost all aspects of modern life were changed overnight and the education sector was hit particularly hard.
Yet with its emphasis on smaller classes and staff dedicated to helping individual pupils on each step of their academic journey, BEPS International School was able to overcome the significant obstacles posed by the coronavirus. As a new school year kicks off, plans are afoot for an exciting development with the secondary school. The Brussels Times sat down with school director Pascale Hertay to find out more.
With summer holidays nearly over, are you ready for the new academic year?
We are very excited to be welcoming students and their families back into the school environment and have some important developments that will be happening during this year and next. We are always excited to be back in September, as we always have new practices and projects to implement and we are hoping that we can all put the added stresses of the last two academic years behind us.
I do hope so. The impact of the pandemic on schools has been widely reported, and its repercussions will be felt long after the virus itself is under control. How has it affected BEPS specifically?
We were very fortunate that we were able to remain open for almost the entirety of the last academic year. Our particular setting and smaller class sizes allowed us to continue in-person teaching whilst also respecting social distancing requirements. Classes in the primary school (ages 3-11) have around 13-14 pupils on average and in the secondary school this is only 5-8 students. This meant that we didn’t have to split classes in two and teach them on alternate weeks.
Do you feel that you managed to overcome the most challenging aspects of the pandemic?
In terms of organisation, our teachers have shown resilience and we felt well supported by our community as we regularly adapted the health and safety measures to respond appropriately to the new regulations.
In our school, we highly value a hands-on approach to learning that prioritises teacher-student interaction and collaboration between classes. This has been more difficult in recent months, and we did need to adopt a “traditional” teaching style where students remain in assigned seats. In response, our teachers have been very creative in using technology to facilitate the teamwork we would normally do in person.
What do you think have been the positive outcomes of this new experience?
Embracing digital tools to help learning has been essential and ensured that students who were unable to attend classes on-site were still able to follow and participate online. We also noticed that some students found this hybrid format helpful, as it allowed teachers to provide individual support depending on their specific requirements. Creativity is a central focus of the school, and the collective experience of overcoming these challenges was enriching for students and teachers alike.
“Our big news is that we have acquired the property adjoining the primary school, which will allow us not only to expand our secondary school but also to have the whole BEPS institution on one campus.”
It is also important to recognise that the world is increasingly digitised and children are often exposed to developments in technology before adults. Yet this familiarity with technology doesn’t necessarily lead to a healthy relationship with it. With technology having been more present than ever in the school environment over the last months, teachers have had an opportunity to show students how to use digital resources creatively, collaboratively, productively and responsibly: valuable lessons for the years to come.
Aside from technology, what changes will there be for the school in the near future?
Well, our big news is that we have acquired the property adjoining the primary school, which will allow us not only to expand our secondary school (currently located on the other side of Bois de la Cambre) but also to have the whole BEPS institution on one campus. This will open in September 2022, which is also our 50th anniversary year. We are hugely excited to be unifying the entire school and this will strengthen the family spirit that is at the heart of BEPS’ ethos. It will also mean that if a family has children in several age groups, they can all attend the same place of learning – a pastoral as well as practical advantage.
In addition to bringing the secondary school under the same roof, we will also now be welcoming students up to the age of 18, rather than only up to 16. This will help BEPS to grow and will allow many students to complete their secondary education at the school. One significant advantage of working with students up to the age of 18 is that we become very aware of the strengths, weaknesses, interests, and aspirations of each student and can support them in every step of their academic journey. In larger schools, such a deep understanding of each student is more difficult to achieve; the attention given to individual students at BEPS greatly benefits the learning process, as well as their social and emotional development.
That is certainly a big change. Are there any ways the new facility will be adapted to school use?
Absolutely, the building itself has a pleasant historic façade that will be preserved, whilst the internal classrooms will be designed specifically to assist our focussed approach to learning. In terms of facilities, we will have new science labs, an art and design studio, and a ‘makers space’ where students can collaborate and test out ideas. A key part of our building will be the creation of open and collaborative spaces. What is really great about these changes is that they will help us to enhance the academic experience for students across the board.
We have always been keen to emphasise the more critical aspects of learning – reflecting on and responding to information – rather than simply memorising facts for the sake of it. The new facilities will play a major role in fostering the analytic capacity of students and make the learning experience more enriching and more enjoyable!
And how is this emphasis on independent thinking reflected in the classroom?
Having made the decision to open up the school to students over 16 years old, we will now be offering the IBDP. As many people are already aware, this is the most widely recognised international high school diploma. However, we are equally excited to also offer the IB Career-related Programme curriculum to older students in the secondary school – a career-focussed course that encourages a more collaborative learning process in which students develop intellectual independence and real-world skills.
There are community aspects to the programme that can involve others in the school (helping younger students/involvement from parents in particular professions) and so having the entire student body on one site will be more conducive to this learning format and, it is hoped, will stimulate engagement and exchange between different elements of the entire school. We hope that by offering these two options, each student will be able to follow the learning pathway that suits them best.