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KTA Lier - OFISI Events

This case study was prepared by Koen Schevenels from ROYAL TECHNICAL ATHENEUM, edited by Joseph Tixier from the OECD LEED Programme 

Introduction

KTA Lier (Royal Technical Atheneum), is situated only about 20 kilometers from the city of Antwerp.

Endowed with many amenities (including its own sports hall), the school has a rapidly growing population of about 300 students in 2015 (compared to the 200 enrolled in 2010). The school’s team is composed of a principal, an adjunct-principal, 60 teachers, 6 administrative employees, and 4 maintenance workers.

Several study disciplines are offered at KTA: some of them prepare the students to further studies, but also with the possibility to enter the job market directly after graduation. Examples from these disciplines are: language and secretary (a preparation for office manager studies or executive manager studies), electronics and electricity (a preparation for the further vocational education specific to this field), beauty and cosmetics (a preparation for the further vocational education specific to this field, with the possibility to start their own business). Other disciplines are more focused on entering the job market or starting up a business: hairdresser, electricity, cabinetmaker, and office management.

KTA Ofisi Office Management
Picture 1: Office Management at work in the project ‘Practice Firm’

In each of these courses, all fifth students year (16-17 years old) do an internships and spend at least 1 day per week in a company to acquire some experience. Some of these study disciplines have their own small company in their last year, office management is one of them…

Alongside the experience gained by students, internships are a great occasion for KTA to connect at deeper levels with the environments:

KTA Ofisi backstage

Picture 2: Students backstage at a theatre production.

In every study discipline, there are several projects designed to advertise the school towards the local community in order to increase the notoriety and image of the school. It is also seen as an opportunity for the students to learn more about the diversity of jobs they can aim for after they graduate while gaining independence and find a vocation.

Because of all these projects, teachers have to be quite flexible. They sometimes have to be at school during the evenings, but can also be required to accompany students to activities in the weekends. KTA’s projects also requires a lot more work from teachers, as they require a lot more administrative tasks. However, through the projects organised during the years, teachers have developed stronger ties with the environment which are very useful for the school.

With all these projects, the schools’ local environment gets involved in education in different manners, with the prospect to give students more chances in their future.

Rationale

The project, “practice firm”, was started in 2011, as the government issued a new competence framework for student to fulfill in order to graduate. This competence framework contains a very practical orientation, so it seemed quite logical at the school that practical and experiential learning is increasingly used throughout the curriculum.

Part of these competencies can also be acquired through internships. The project of the practice firm is an ideal way to make sure the student’s acquire competencies that could not otherwise – even through internships – get  

The atypical and integrated lesson format made this project very attractive for the students and increased motivation amongst them. In order to have a balanced workload for each student, work is done in groups of about 7 to 8 students. Thanks to these smaller groups, the teacher acting as a mentor for the project can give more specific advices to the students.

Developing projects that foster all competencies required by the framework turned out to be a difficult task in the beginning, but the government came up with several propositions to be implemented by schools. One of them was to start a practice firm. The school benefited from advices from COFEP, a Belgian organization providing with pedagogical training enterprises (practice firms) which are business simulations. COFEP trained teachers to designing competence oriented curriculum, to coach students, as well as general knowledge on the advantages of a practice firm and how to implement them at school.

The practice firms are used in several schools in Belgium, but also in other countries (from America to Asia and Australia). Through COFEP and its international network such as the European  EUROPEN-PEN network, students are familiarizing with foreign languages and cultures, and improve their language proficiency. Students also familiarizes with business vocabulary and jargon during the activities at the practice firm.

The long preparation phase, with seminars and meetings gathering teachers and principals, as well as extra courses convinced the schools team to invest in the project of “practice firms” and dedicated a classroom for its activities

Description of the activity/project

The project is similarly to what happens in a real company where each essential function is represented. The project ‘practice firm’ represents and involvement of 8 hours a week for the students, mimicking that of a real working day in a company.

In the beginning of the school year, students have to think about the concept they will create for that year. They then proceed in making a complete financial plan for a year of activity, choosing the products they will be selling, and calculate its price. Students also design and implement a communication strategy and its main mediums such as a catalogue, a website (website from 2014’s project: http://be01ofs.wix.com/ofisi-events). They have to make a good promotion to start the year and make their company known by other practice firms. After this process that takes several weeks, the regular tasks for each department will start:

The different steps and actions taken by the firm are simulated within the universe of the “practice firm” network around the world in which all firms inform the system that a good has been ‘delivered’ when the delivery file is received. No real money is used, but COFEP provides schools with a piece of software which simulates a real online banking system.

Since each department is a bit different, students rotate during the year so that all have the chance to experience each department, learning also about their own centre of interest and capacity. This is very important for the students because they learn about their strengths and weaknesses, which is important to make a study choice if they go to college. All the tasks and goals (knowledge, attitude and socials goals) are evaluated by the teacher with a separate evaluation file.

There are a lot of knowledge goals to reach, but equal important are the attitudes and social goals. Our students have to learn to work in group, have to learn to discuss things and make decisions. It is also a big step for our students to make telephone conversations with strangers and often in foreign languages.

One of the other tasks during the year is the participation in a big event, organised by COFEP at the city of Ghent: the international trade fair. During this event, practice firms have their own place to sell goods in direct interaction with the customers. There, students make a visual contact with clients, have conversations and try to convince them at that specific moment to buy the goods. It is quite a frightening for the students at the beginning, but by the end of the day, the apprehension has disappeared and students are more spontaneously talking with other people. Being an international event, practice firms from other countries like France, Italy, Germany, are represented, giving students the opportunity to practice foreign languages, and use what they learned during their entire school program.

The skills and attitudes acquired during this programme are put to contribution by KTA Lier for the organization of academic meetings between the parents and administration, as students welcome the parents and show them to the right teacher in the right classroom. Students are also put to contribution to give tours at the school’s open house day. During the past two years the school received important positive feedback from parents and partners. Visitors of the school perceive well the added value of involving students in official school events and meetings.

 

Anchoring of the activity/project in the school

The decision to start with the project was taken collegially within a team of teachers and principal. The activity was endowed with a dedicated classroom which could be arranged the way a real company would be. There wasn’t always a budget to do this, but year by year the school arranged some budget to make it more realistic. At the moment there are plans to arrange a new classroom with a lot more professional elements than what is now available. The long term goal in terms of classroom setting is to have real ergonomic chairs, good computers, good office desks with all the necessary equipment and stationary instead of the old equipment in use today

The school administration is very flexible as well, and understands the importance of this project. For example, the first year’s participation to the international trade fair was limited to a visitor status, the second year, the group was a full participant for one day, and in 2014, the school attended for the whole two days length of the event.

The school’s administration has allowed to organise the reception part of certain events, even when press is visiting to school, and to let students give tours at the school. It is a nice motivation for both students and teachers that the school stimulates this project and gives a chance to improve the knowledge of the students.

Links of the activity/project with the external world

The whole project aims to resemble what it is like to operate in a real company. Everything that a real company has to do, gets done in the practice firm as well.

The company at KTA Lier deals with organising events and selling goods related to events, it is important that teachers and students get inspiration from professionals who have experience with events management. For their integrated task during the year, the students have to organise an event on their own, and they present it to a jury which gathers people from the same sector of activity. These jury members give advice several times a year, and help the students with problems they have during their organisation, but they can also give some good advice for our practice firm.

At the moment the school actively looks for partners and supporters of its activities. Besides a financial partnership, the school seeks to attract professionals willing to give advice about the administration, organisation, and structure of a company in their sector.

The school in the community

The school is situated in Lier, where there are several other schools. The school staff thrives to increase the school’s notoriety in its local environment by looking for organisations in which the students can go for internships, such as the town hall of Lier. It is important that city hall’s staff recognize the quality of the school’s students and their willingness to learn.

KTA also participates in activities of the town and special activities to promote the school, such as the celebrations of the city’s creation 1000 years ago. One of the activities of the celebration was a marathon, to which the winners received a massage from the schools’ students from the beauty and cosmetics course.

The school also regularly participates to local neighborhood parties or events and tries to get promoted in the press: for example in September 2014 the principal took part in the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge, where he dared other principals from the town to walk with KTA at the end of the year, and give the money to the charity.

Achievements and impact

The first year the project was organised, sales were very little, but quadrupled for the second year as OFISI Events gets more notoriety from other practice firms.

As the year goes by, the school teachers noticed an evolution in the knowledge of students. They get more confident in what they do and repeat less mistakes than in the beginning of the year. At the start each year, students still make mistakes because they aren’t used to being active in a practical environment. While regular lessons’ tasks are more contained, the practice firm offers a freer assignment with a high uncertainty regarding which products are going to succeed and the overall firm’s achievement. But the more orders the students get, the more they are confident in their work, and the faster they work when they reach the end of the year. Students do not always see the great progress they have made, but when they are at their internships and they have to do similar tasks, the mentor always give really good feedback on the student’s performance.

The trade fair in Ghent is always a big success. In the beginning of the day, students do not really know how to make contact with other people, but as the hours pass by, students evolve into good sales representatives. Foreign languages also become more and more one of their stronger aspects. At the trade fair, students are required to talk French and English by the necessity of the sale. The amount of sales at the trade fair is quite high. In 2013, it was approximately 50 sales for a total amount of about 4 000,00 €. Their attitudes and social competencies are one of the most ones to obtain or to work on that day.

During the year, students gradually realize what a real company looks like, which helps them to act seriously in all matters. They learn that they have to work in team, that they need to have a good structure in the organization to avoid problems. Students are constantly trying to do better and to improve all the aspects of the company. Sometimes, students come up with more efficient ways to complete tasks and voluntarily ask for validation from the mentor of the project. These are attitudes and competencies the school tries to nurture in students. It takes some time, but by the end of the year students have become more adult, they are not so much afraid of the world of work, and they have learned to know their own capabilities.

Success factors

Obstacles and ways to overcome them

Readings

COFEP: the national organisation providing us with support and software in Belgium
              www.cofep.be

EUROPEN: the international organisation providing us with support
              http://cms.europen.info

DATABASE of practice firms: an example of the database we use to search for other practice firms (can only be seen by a registered user)
              http://zetbe.zuef.de/ZetDB/Startseite/Startseite.aspx

BANK: an example of the bank software we use for e-banking (can only be seen by a registered user)
             
http://zetbe.zuef.de/ZetBank/Startseite/Startseite_Bank.aspx

MARKET: the software we use to buy our goods if we can’t find a practice firm with the products we need (can only be seen by a registered user)
             
http://zetbe.zuef.de/ZetKuefa/Startseite_Kuefa/StartseiteKuefa.aspx