Even people who are familiar with Zuidas don’t always realise that there’s a school, the St. Nicolaaslyceum, on Prinses Irenestraat and Beethovenstraat (left on the photo). The penny normally drops when Meijer refers to the outdoor basketball court. ‘And we’ve got such a magnificent building’, she says. ‘Natural daylight comes in through the glass roof on the fifth floor and reaches right down to the main entrance hall.’ According to Meijer, this is one of the reasons that the school is so popular, attracting eight first-year classes per year. The special ‘profile classes’ are also very appealing. In these classes, pupils are given extra support for their sporting or cultural activities, or for bilingual teaching. But since mid-March, lessons are not being taught at school but at home.
Education has gone digital for the duration of the Corona crisis. Meijer and her colleagues managed to switch to the web within three days. In a stroke of good luck, they were already developing a new online system with classes divided into teams. ‘I’ve got eight classes, so eight teams containing all the pupils’, says Meijer. ‘I set the assignments and the pupils know how to contact me in a chat if they have any questions.’ Meijer feels at home in the digital environment; she was one of the pioneers in the school’s IT pathway. Some of her colleagues had more difficulty with the shift. ‘Everything went wrong during our first practise session with all the teachers’, Meijer laughs. ‘Everyone switched on their cameras and microphones. You could see their kids running around in the background and hear people eating.’
Pets and mothers
Meijer switches her pupils’ microphones and cameras off for her lessons and only switches one on if a pupil wants to ask a question through the chat application. Twice a week, she holds a 10-minute video call with her mentor pupils in groups of four. Pupils in the fifth (and final) year of senior secondary education are allowed to see each other during her English classes. ‘This is a very uncertain time for them’, Meijer explains. ‘Their school exams have been cancelled twice.’ During our first online lesson, all ten pupils showed each other their pets. ‘It was great to see them proudly sitting in their rooms and casually pointing to their mothers’, says Meijer. ‘Homely and hilarious. Just what we needed.’ Meijer says that the pupils are having a tough time. They’re convinced that they ‘won’t hack it’ if the Corona guidelines are continued beyond 6 April. Or they refuse to open their curtains, because they ‘hate’ today. Meijer: ‘At times like this, I remember that I’ve got a bunch of adolescents in front of me.’
The pupil population at the St. Nicolaaslyceum is very mixed, comments Meijer. Some of the pupils live locally, while others come from Zuid-Oost, Nieuw-West, Abcoude and Landsmeer. This is partly because of the matching system, whereby lots are drawn to decide which of their preferred twelve schools children will attend. Pupils also come from different social backgrounds. Meijer is proud that her school was swiftly able to supply laptops to its pupils during the Corona crisis. ‘We lent them to children who had to share a laptop with brothers or sisters, for example.’
The social dynamics have changed in the digital classroom. Meijer has already noticed that some of the quieter children find it easier to ask questions in the digital environment. ‘And the noisy ones seem to have gone quiet.’ Is it proving difficult? ‘Let’s say that I sympathise with some of the parents.’ Meijer recently spoke to a parent who was having trouble persuading their child to do his schoolwork. “How on earth do you manage? How can I get him to work?” they ask. Meijer admits to the odd wry smile. ‘It’s an upside-down world.’ She advises parents to stick to a daily routine and give their children breaks. ‘Children simply can’t concentrate for three hours at a time.’
Nobody knows how long this is going to last. To provide a bit of certainty, Meijer tells her pupils to expect that school probably won’t open until after the spring half-term holiday. For most people at least. A few teachers are going into school this week for oral exams. The pupils take the exams at home, and Meijer does them from home too. ‘But some of my colleagues have four children of their own. You can’t risk them disturbing an exam.’ So a few teachers will still be able to enjoy the beautiful sunlight in the entrance hall when they take a break from exams in their empty classrooms.