01 Oct BCIS, High-flying stimulator
Caroline Laleta Ballini
1er Octobre 2019
BCIS Phuket (Berda Claude International School) blows its first 2 candles with nearly 450 students. With the opening on September 3rd of the new Phase III campus, Laurent Minguely, its founder shares with us his exceptional vision of the modern school, the discovery of all the unique spaces of their kind and his deep respect for the students.
Laurent, what did you learn during these first 2 years?
A private school today requires a minimum standard. A small school in Phuket no longer meets all expectations of parents and what remains valid for the primary is not for secondary, hence the construction of this new campus. Parents first think of the safety and the friendliness of a small school, but as soon as one reaches secondary school, the results, the performances of the teachers and the preparation for the Grandes Ecoles and universities take precedence, which induces a completely different dimension of school.
You are entering the big league, how do you distinguish yourself from other international schools in Phuket?
First of all, my vision has changed. My first phase of reflection took into account reference schools for positioning BCIS, but I realized that the most important was our identity and our own actions. Yes, it takes a minimum standard as a school, but what really matters is what we do here.
This year, it was still too early for BCIS to be considered a big school. We are flattered that parents have asked us to become one soon. It was therefore necessary to accelerate the pace in the strengthening of the teaching teams, so as not to disappoint the parents who expect it and those who will join us. To differentiate ourselves, we observe all the schools in the world and draw on all the good ideas and the strong and positive practices, in order to create a puzzle that will make BCIS a success.
You are the only school offering 2 curriculums, French and English…
A private school needs sufficient income to pay for infrastructure and teachers. I had to think about all the possible leverages to ensure our progress. The most obvious was to prove to be the first and only school in Thailand able to bring Cambridge’s English curriculum and the French curriculum under one roof. Since the beginning, Cambridge has accredited us for primary and since June for secondary. For the French side, the French Ministry of Education has accredited us for primary last month.
The French Embassy has just opened its second scholarship campaign until September 20 and it concerns you.
Yes, but right now, we can only relay the information given by the French Embassy. Our communication towards parents remains cautious, as we have just entered the AEFE network which gathers 500 schools around the world.
How can you help the French in making a choice on the learning language of their children?
At this stage of the school’s maturity, we have chosen to leave parents determine the program they want. The priority of French people who have decided to go abroad with their family is that their child speaks English. But those who are already at BCIS and who had planned an English curriculum for high school or the last year of primary, realize that the French program is very well organized, accurate and rich in its construction. They prefer to keep the French curriculum and their child takes as many English classes as possible.
In this French curriculum, how many hours are allocated to English?
Regardless of the compulsory hours of the program, the primaries have “Emile” classes (Teaching Materials by Integration of a Foreign Language) with subjects like sport or within a House System, taught in English. Language is no longer simply an object of learning, but becomes a communication tool allowing access to disciplinary knowledge and know-how in order to acquire the necessary fluency to speak continuously in ordinary dialogues of everyday life and thus better integrate.
It’s a one and only school, but 59 nationalities rub shoulders. The French section, which now represents a quarter of students, is growing and the program is completely in French. As for Cambridge, it is completely in English, with French as a second language and Chinese as third.
Among the first graduates in French this year, Paulina, a Russian student who did not speak a word of French at the beginning of the school year, obtained 94% in French as a foreign language (FLE) for the A1 and A2 exams. Today she can speak French and encourages other students to apply themselves in their learning. The French ambassador, Jacques Lapouge, invited her on 21 September for the graduation ceremony.
Your approval by the Ministry of Education will be an asset...
Yes, for kindergarten and primary school up to Year 6 and later for secondary school if we have more students. Many criteria are important when applying for a certification. Even if we operate with the required number of teachers, I think we would need at least 3-4 classes with about fifty students to be able to apply.
Moreover, if we accredit the secondary school, it means that we have to stop the CNED program (National Centre for Distance Education). Yet we have 100% success and the students are structured, organized, with a clear and rhythmic program. They know where they are because they have all the books to follow.
Initially I had a doubt because the CNED is sold as a program at home, but its level has proved to be particularly high. Obviously, when I offer parents to take the CNED in secondary school, they have to pay both CNED and BCIS tuition, but today I can say that it is not a duplicate, because a parent who takes the CNED system at home must play the role of a teacher, which requires a lot of patience, pedagogy and available time. The child must be able to discipline himself to learn alone and to send his homework himself. Parents who have a job do not have this availability which is why the CNED program is so important at school.
The CNED and its organization of the school program in Sequences and Sessions, the follow-up of the sendings and the control of the courseworks, allow the pedagogical teams and the parents to make sure that the whole program of the year is well seen and accomplished.
All the students I have met over the years need our teachers for the educational gymnastics necessary for full understanding. There are always bright students who can do it alone, but school is for everyone.
For the English IGSE Curriculum’s Secondary, this year you open Year 10 classes with their options. What is the range of choice?
At this stage of BCIS we worked with our students, quite simply. We have 15 students who enter Year 10 and we have the means so that they can get the options of their choice. I do not do a school for the many, but for each of the children. This requires precise identification of students by teachers, with a management program. As the director, I want to know the strengths and weaknesses of each of my students, because I care for each one of them. I ask that each teacher could tell me which student needs support and that it is reported to parents so that they can make the necessary arrangements, with extra classes or personal work at home. I want continuous stress-free control and attractive regular checks for children. The more they realize that they succeed, the more they enjoy learning. So this identification has been going on for a year now and we are still adapting our tools. Tomorrow, more students will arrive and we will propose other options, because the spaces are there.
How to run a school with 59 nationalities and their different religions?
We are the only school in Phuket to apply French values, especially on a crucial point: secularism. I am proud that all the communities and their different religions are flourishing at BCIS and compliment us on the management of this delicate subject. At BCIS, every student can shape his personality without influence. All of these values must be instilled in all staff and new teachers. I want students to gain maximum knowledge, find their way and their place in this society. Finally, all communities agreed that BCIS is a neutral school.
The French law prohibits mobile phones in primary schools and middle schools since the start of the 2018 school year. We apply this rule on BCIS campus and no student complains about it. If we show them that we can do something else, they only ask to be guided in directions where they can flourish. We have to keep them busy and this new campus is designed for teenagers. That’s why I created activity zones like the first Snooker academy, with a ranked Thai ambassador, who is doing international competitions. Phaa Hmaunpao is 16 years old and can be an example for teenagers. The equipment is there to be used and touched, but they must respect them and learn to use them under the patronage of another student, with a transmission of passion!
What can you tell us about the new campus?
We can accommodate 1,500 students at the very least. But thanks to our modularity, we are able to expand the capacity. It is not the goal, though. The goal is to provide the school with a long-term future.
First, I did not want our development potential, our work tools and the flexibility of spaces to be limited for the next few years.
The school is a place of evolution and what is true in 2019, will change in 2020 and in 2021.
We are in perpetual development and the structure is very flexible, walls, ceilings, everything is adjustable so that we can decide to evolve and a 64sqm room today can become 130sqm tomorrow or vice versa. It’s a flexible and dynamic place with potential.
I wanted to have the least possible multifunctional classes. It increases the cost of exploitation since each specific room is not occupied permanently, but it is a choice so that the student really has his space of success, rooms that inspire him, offering him the widest possible vision. The whole development of the school is based on that. The core subjects will all have a specific room that will arouse exploration for the student to understand why he is learning history, geography, why to protect our planet or read books.
Students in the 21st century are no longer static, they move. At BCIS, chairs and tables are mobile. A child who remains in the same room ends up losing his concentration at a certain point, so we must respect the times when he switches off. In all these specific rooms, there is a world to explore and my goal is to create more and more worlds, such as the room devoted to sustainable development and the protection of the planet.
We have the general knowledge center with the history, geography and library rooms. Then the computer, technological, robotic and now holographic pole. There is also the artistic pole on the 4th Floor with the sewing, art, sculpture and music rooms. Then the media/TV division, in tribute to Claude Berda, founder of AB Productions, the biggest French production company in the 80-90’ (Dorothée, Hélène and the boys…), where the students will be able to learn audiovisual techniques, supported by an entire network featuring the president of Warner Bros. Then, there is the whole sport pole and many places of well-being where you can sit and relax.
I wanted to make sure that we feel good on this campus, not to feel locked in a building, but to have the feeling of being outside when we are inside. From all sides, thanks to the glass walls, we take advantage of trees and nature. The building is positioned east-west and no class is in full sun, but still it is in full light, which is one of the criteria for success. Air quality, light and soundproofing are indeed the first 3 criteria for successful student learning.
Is there a place for parents?
Well, here they are spoiled! They have 2 relaxation areas of 400sqm: the lounge, informative place of the school where students present their performances at the end of the day, and the small gallery on the 4th floor, where the artistic works are exhibited. Parents have access to the cafeteria as well, which is also the Snooker Academy.
In terms of sports, what do you propose?
A wild area dedicated to numerous sports disciplines such as basketball, tennis, volleyball courts… And that’s without counting the Olympic swimming pool of 50m.
And the long-awaited planetarium?
The planetarium is a very big investment even if its structure is not solid. We will enter the world astronomy club and attract scientists who will be able to communicate and interact with our students, wherever they are in the world. This will become an instructive pole with a control of knowledge by a voting system. The goal is not to watch a movie, but to learn, it is educational. There are many things to exploit including the astronomy part, the science part and the artistic part, because in a dome we can project a lot of artistic works with music, opera… It’s an action that will evolve gradually.
We have already contacted the Phuket Astronomy Club, pleased to see that astronomy is finally taken seriously in Phuket. We absolutely have to explore this horizon, as major groups such as Boeing, NASA, Elon Musk, Virgin and Amazon have gone into the conquest of space with projects, coupled with artificial intelligence and programming. It’s up to us to open the minds of our children…
What extracurricular activities do you currently offer?
Since the beginning of the school year, we have opened the position of school activities manager, which includes the academic part, the support and also a class for the most advanced students who need challenge. A student who has between 85% and 100% permanently on all his grades is not necessarily the happiest. Bright students show a certain lassitude to learn, arouse jealousy that they cannot handle and feel that others are not fast enough for them. It often turns out that they are the ones who heckle the most and denigrate society and the community. In addition to Support Hub, we have created an Advanced Hub, and these two extracurricular activities come together harmoniously.
Over self-confidence is not very healthy. We should not judge everything about short-term results, a child with bad grades today might reveal an excellent leader tomorrow. It is a person that we are building, a future citizen.
Through school it is necessary to provide a regularity of learning and to make sure that this learning is well fixed. We see champions who know how to do everything year-round and who the next year have forgotten everything, or some who read the lesson the day before the exams and who have forgotten everything two days later. That is why tools and specialized rooms will allow the children to immerse themselves in particular worlds, which will become their daily life. Most schools only talk about results, but is knowledge anchored? Will the student know how to use his knowledge, how to make the connections and to fulfill with it? Can he create?
The child also has emotions, in relation to what he believes, what he sees and sometimes what he does not know how to express. In its differentiation, BCIS banishes repression. We do not punish a student, it’s extremely rare. A child needs to feel kindness. I want the child to feel that he is loved by society first. Thus his intelligence, his development, his knowledge, his strength, will be able to flourish. When a student is negative or behaves badly, he must learn to isolate himself in comforting spaces, to play chess or to read a book, for example. These are the ways that I want to show the children at BCIS, educate them to integrate harmoniously into our society, to appreciate the differentiation, the diversity and to possess all these values. When they leave school, they will have acquired exceptional expertise and skills.
How are you going to make such a place profitable?
Tuition fees alone are insufficient to amortize such an institution. During the day it is a school, but in the evenings, on weekends and holidays, it will become an association of clubs and young companies to teach other disciplines. I really want to share and bring opportunities to our community. Thus, new entrepreneurs who do not have the means and the place to flourish will be able to access these spaces, for free at the beginning, so that they build themselves, blossom and when it turns out well participate in the expenses.
If we came to that, I would feel like I have done something wonderful in my life. These shared values must absolutely be passed on to the students. When you get up in the morning, do not look to whom you are going to hurt, look for who you are going to please. This is what is happening in our societies today. We often see what the other has in his hand and we want more than we admire. I rather advise to look at how he does it to be inspired and to create something different. These values are found at BCIS.