Innovation and creation are focus of new school’s vision


The LAB school in Sint-Amands is aiming to turn out graduates with entrepreneurial spirit, using a blend of theory, practice and mixing up subjects

Practise what they teach

Students at a new secondary school will have lessons according to an innovative concept that aims to encourage their initiative, creative spirit and teamwork skills.

The LAB school in Sint-Amands, Antwerp province, is supported by Antwerp University (UAntwerp) and several Flemish organisations, including technology industry federation Agoria.

A group of people from Flanders’ business, HR and marketing sector took the initiative to set up the school. For the pedagogical framework, they worked with education scientist Kristien Bruggeman of UAntwerp, who will be one of two directors.

“The initiators noticed that new graduates often lacked an entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to work independently and the capacity to work in a team,” says Bruggeman. To help address the problem, partners including FabLab Klein-Brabant, Flanders Synergy and CoderDojo joined the LAB network, and on 1 September, the school will start teaching up to 150 students.

Lessons will be organised according to an interdisciplinary philosophy. Instead of focusing on one specific domain, different study areas will be linked. By analysing a scientific text, for example, students can learn about both the scientific content and language aspects. Teachers with different expertise will work together during lessons.

Four phases of learning

Another essential part of LAB’s method is the practical application of theory. “This way, new information is better anchored in students’ memory,” says Bruggeman. “When youngsters are only asked to reproduce theory, new information is too abstract for them to understand and remember properly.”

Students will generally learn through four phases. Teachers will first encourage their interest in a topic, before explaining the theoretical background. In the third phase, students will apply the acquired knowledge in a concrete project, before teachers offer a view on the bigger picture, showing its relevance to society.

When youngsters are only asked to reproduce theory, new information is too abstract for them to understand and remember properly

- Kristien Bruggeman

During lessons about the water cycle, for example, students might first carry out experiments with a conical flask to condense water and then learn how the condensation process works. “In the third phase, we would ask them to make a scale model representing the water cycle,” says Bruggeman. “In the last phase, we can explain how the water cycle influences climate change and can subsequently cause a refugee crisis.”

As it’s essential for youngsters to learn how to work by themselves, LAB focuses on the method known as Begeleid Zelfstandig Leren, or independently led learning. Students will make a plan about how to reach certain goals at the end of a week, always with the coaching of various teachers.

“Of course we will give attention to instructive lessons as well, but these will also be given in an innovative way,” says Bruggeman. Students will have access to educational videos, which they can watch before lessons in the classroom. “If they have questions they can ask teachers for clarification, while others can go on to something else.”

Diverse job

LAB will also use a modular system, meaning students will spend several weeks focusing on specific topics, like programming or woodworking. External organisations such as the non-profit CoderDojo will lead these modules.

Teaching at LAB will be a diverse job. “We want to revalue teachers as creative and passionate professionals, whereas their capacities are now too often restrained by bureaucracy,” says Bruggeman. “By sharing our leadership as directors with them, we want to offer them flexibility and autonomy.”

As well as working together in a classroom, teachers will also coach each other in meetings and develop materials together. Each week, LAB will ask them to work about 36 lesson hours – lasting 50 minutes each – of which 28 will be in the classroom, instead of the official 22 lesson hours that teachers in the first grade work in the traditional system.

The school has already received about 70 applications from teachers, for just 13 vacancies. There is also a lot of interest from parents. “On the first day of registrations, it took less than 13 minutes to fill all 90 places for the first year,” says Bruggeman. Registrations for the second year will be held in April.

Photo courtesy LAB school

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.

million school-going children in 2013


million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013


percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma