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Making the grade: BEPS International School ahead of corona curve

08:57 26/03/2020

While the closure of schools due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Belgium came very suddenly, with only one day between being open and closed, some schools were more ready than others. BEPS International School in Brussels had already implemented online learning programmes and was well prepared for the imminent school closures.

Pascale Hertay, director of BEPS, an authorised IB World School explains. “We have many nationalities in our school, and a lot of parents work and travel regularly to other countries. They were not only more aware of the spread of the virus but also more at risk of contracting it.” 

Realising this, being sensitive to the international nature of its families and respecting this perspective, the school was closed two days before the announcement for state schools. “We expected that something would happen at a nation-wide level, we just didn’t know when,” says Hertay. “We made the decision before we had coronavirus cases in our school, having already begun to address the need for distance learning.”

Virtual classrooms

And there was an underlying strategy in this decision: to get teachers used to online learning. “The idea was to close the school but not to stop the learning.”

So while some Belgian state schools sent their pupils away with homework and the instruction to watch educational TV programmes, BEPS expanded its use of virtual classrooms. Their pupils, from pre-schoolers to teenagers, are still engaged in learning – just from home.

BEPS Secondary Students were already used to this concept: They had already been using Google Classroom to submit assignments and get feedback. They have now built on that experience and are applying it full time from home.

“For us in the secondary school,” says Curriculum Coordinator Andrew Mitchell, “it was really a matter of ensuring that everybody was comfortable doing exactly the same thing away from school that they were doing in school.”

The BEPS vision is to develop independent learners and allow them to become the owners of their own learning. BEPS teachers are facilitators and so their teaching methods were already well suited to the constraints – and advantages – of remote learning. But in fact the lessons are nearly the same.

“We check in at the beginning of the lesson, set up a task, they carry it out and submit it,” explains Mitchell. “A really effective technique I’ve used so far is putting several students on a shared Google doc. I can see them typing away. I can highlight bits of text and provide immediate feedback. I can also see who is or isn’t engaged.”

Mitchell says that students following the IB World Schools’ Middle Years Programme (MYP) are used to less traditional forms of teaching, in any case. “We are involved in self-directed learning. For example, today my task was: Imagine that Mr Mitchell has just been eaten by an alien. Choose one of these five subjects and prepare a 15-minute lesson to teach to your classmates. Then we talked about learning styles, how to know if someone is understanding you – all of these questions are bundled into one activity.”

For the younger children – and especially the pre-schoolers – BEPS uses platforms which best suit the age of the learners. But the expectations are still the same. They are required to log in, carry out activities, report back and talk to their teachers. The key message is that engagement and challenge  remain at the core of what they are doing.

“When younger children are put in unexpected situations, they can experience anxiety very quickly,” explains Hertay. “To be stuck at home is not a normal situation, even some adults can’t cope with this. Therefore, providing them with a structure, a familiar routine – breakfast /school/break/school/lunch – and being in contact with teachers and friends, even online, is crucial. It gives them a sense of security.”

Hertay concludes that it is a new experience for the whole community – teachers, children and parents. All are working as a team, learning and reflecting together, and everyday creating improved online learning experiences for the students.

Although the teachers had already been beginning to acquire online learning skills previously, the situation has accelerated its full implementation. “For some of our teachers, this was way out of their comfort zone. But they demonstrated their professionalism and commitment to the children’s learning, and they just did it. Parents appreciate their effort and we are really proud of our team!”

The admission period for the 2020-21 school year has begun at BEPS

BEPS International School
23 Avenue Franklin Roosevelt
1050 Brussels

Written by The Bulletin