What to do when your school life comes to an abrupt end?

With the announcement of the cancellation of the IB examinations, many students across the world began by celebrating! That was, until reality set in that school had really finished and there were months ahead with very little to fill the gap between school and university.

At Collège Alpin Beau Soleil, we realised that this was a challenge for our students who from one day to the next found their high school education had finished. Putting heads together, our team, led by Mr Alan Lawson created a bespoke, pre-university course designed to help prepare Grade 12 for university life, keeping their minds engaged over the coming months. “With our students spread across the world, many of them are experiencing strict levels of confinement which means they have time to dedicate to thinking about their future, perhaps too much time. With so much uncertainty it can be disconsolate. But there’s an opportunity in all this to think about the big existential questions, and the ways in which we find or generate meaning in the world,” says Alan.

The Beau Soleil pre-university programme is based on a first-year liberal arts course, incorporating elements of science, maths and design, helping students to strengthen their cultural capital, learn important research skills and to gain practical advice on how to succeed as an independent learner. Alan Lawson explains, “research carried out by a colleague Dr Paul Lynch indicated what university lecturers thought of their first year students and this information gave us direction on the contents of our programme.”

What university lecturers think of their first year students;
• Many first year students have a weakness in their reading skills and are often very reluctant to engage with readings over about 4 pages.
• IB and A-Level students need to learn the importance of clear and concise presentation.
• Many students think markers will be prepared to work hard to find out what the student means but the reality is that poor writing is off-putting and poor writers automatically get poor marks, whether or not their ideas are good.
• First year students have a reliance on, and expectation of, directed learning and hand-holding; a tendency to believe that questions and issues have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer
• They lack certain skills, especially: note-taking; planning and prioritising; collaborative learning; the pitfalls of the web.

“We designed our course around university-style lectures. The content is chosen to encourage questioning and reflection, and for the students to come up with their own questions that they believe arise from the material. For example, a reading from Plato’s Republic instigated an unexpected discussion around the global political responses to the pandemic. The crisis has in some ways encouraged students to think beyond the limited scope of a syllabus and to enjoy a certain amount of intellectual cross pollination.”
The programme is now in its fourth week and despite being entirely optional, participation rates have been fantastic and feedback very positive. Sometimes it is adversity that creates unexpected opportunities and this is certainly the case for the graduating class of 2020.

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