Q&A: Bert Smits on the school of the future

Summary

Education expert Bert Smits explains how teachers can harness the skills students have learned using social media to adapt the way they teach

Continuous stream of information

Bert Smits is an education expert and co-founder of the platform Mysterie van onderwijs (Mystery of Education), which strives to encourage innovation in the education sector. Smits recently gave a presentation on the “school of the future” to the Flemish ministry of education.

How different are current students from past generations?

Youngsters now live more in the moment and are more articulate. As a result, students more often demand that their teachers explain the purpose of studying a topic. This is Generation Y – with the Y pronounced meaningfully as “Why?”.

How should teachers deal with this?

They could provide a brief overview of a topic, discuss it with the group and identify which aspects need more clarification. It’s also important to demonstrate the concrete usefulness of knowledge. So instead of going over all aspects of the Second World War in history lessons, for instance, teachers could provide a summary and examine the main gaps are in students’ knowledge. When filling in these gaps, they could point out the influence of historical events on current relations between political powers.

How can teachers adapt to the influence of social media?

Because of the continuous information stream on sites such as Facebook, youngsters are used to deriving meaning by connecting different pieces of information, like seeing how friends are doing by checking their Facebook posts. In the same way, it would be good for teachers not to teach topics from A to Z in a book, but to provide understanding through related excerpts, movies, articles, explanations and group debates.

What is the Mystery of Education?

The platform highlights innovative initiatives in the education sector through a digital platform and events, like presentations. Many schools are organising inspiring projects, such as the special education school Reynaert in Ghent’s Oostakker district, which established the company Foxbox for the production of decorations. Not only can its students follow an internship at Foxbox, they can also get a job later. This way, the school offers quality job opportunities. I hope Flanders’ education ministry will support more local initiatives instead of setting up top-down projects.

Photo by Karel Durinckx

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.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma