A school of constant innovation
TEXT: ARNE ADRIAENSSENS | PHOTOS © SINT-LODEWIJKSCOLLEGE
Although the history of learning takes us back millennia, there is always room for new ideas. Today, innovative schools like Sint-Lodewijkscollege in Bruges are replacing the archaic principles of unidirectional learning with modern, immersive methods to transfer knowledge. Just as high as they set the standards for their own pupils, the staff at Sint-Lodewijkscollege strive to improve themselves every single day.
“Sint-Lodewijkscollege has always been a reputed secondary school,” says headmaster Koen Seynaeve with pride. “To maintain this high standard, we keep innovating our methods. To us, the most important question is: ‘How can we allow our pupils to understand the material in a better way?’. We believe the secret is to show them different ways to think and learn. They don’t just listen to their teachers explaining things to them all the time. Instead, we trigger them to immerse themselves in the matter by looking up information themselves and distilling it into a presentation, a text or even a game. This creative approach makes them more involved in the learning process, which motivates them and reduces their studying time at home.”
This philosophy translates to the pupils’ timetables in the shape of many challenging projects. Among other things, the school organises a special activity for its pupils once a week. This can be a lecture from a politician, a visit from a writer, an interesting film, or an hour of spiritual reflection. “Another project we are particularly proud of is the introduction we give to the world of academic writing. From the first grade onwards, our pupils learn how to read comprehensively and research thoroughly. All of this comes together in a paper they write in the sixth grade. They pick a subject, formulate a research question, immerse themselves in the subject and write 20 pages about it. As the magnum opus, they present it in front of an external jury. Many alumni refer to this experience as one of the most useful they had here. It gives them a head-start at college or university.”
Obviously, the priority of Sint-Lodewijkscollege is to enlighten their pupils with plenty of knowledge. As a grammar school, they provide challenging, theoretical studies in five different domains: science, economics, human sciences and both modern and classical languages. “We consider all types of languages to be of vital importance. Those who study Latin or Greek get in touch with the narrative history of culture and mankind throughout mythology. That knowledge remains relevant.” To practise modern languages, pupils can opt to take classes such as history or religion in English instead of Dutch. Since the content of those classes is exam material as well, pupils tend to pay more attention to comprehend the language. During multiple internationalisation projects, they meet peers from different countries who speak foreign languages. That encourages them to practice what they have learned in class in their daily lives as well.
Top-notch education asks for state-of-the-art infrastructure. Today, the school is in the process of building three rooms for experimenting and exploring. “For those who study human sciences, we have an immense library with over 150,000 copies in the non-fiction department. For pupils who study classical or modern languages, we are building a language centre in which they can practice all four language skills in a digital environment. Science pupils will be able to experiment in our future auditorium.”
Since youngsters spend a fair share of their woken hours at school, it should be a warm and welcoming place as well. “It is vital for us that the atmosphere among pupils and between them and their teachers is jovial and open. We organise plenty of extra-curricular activities and encourage pupils to take initiative themselves. Our school even has a praesidium in which pupils can organise sports, cultural or other activities themselves. The teachers help them, but they are in charge.”
In the classrooms as well, humanity rules. “Since this year, we have a new safety net for pupils who failed one or more subjects during the first semester. Right after the holidays, we give them the chance to liaise with their teacher and figure out where it went wrong. Afterwards, they can study the material again and do another test. If they pass this one, we change their original grade to 50 per cent, giving them better odds to reach the end of the school year.”
When Seynaeve looks at how his school evolves, he feels nothing but pride. Their alumni often exceed their own expectations and reach the top in various fields including politics, business and the academic world. “Furthermore, a substantial number of them invest their skills in social projects worldwide. This could be starting a project in a developing country or joining the ranks at an NGO. Just the thought that we might have contributed to this choice confirms that we are on the right track.”