Educating the Netherlands’ best Paralympian

Liesette Bruinsma, five-times Paralympic medal winner, and since 21 December 2016 the Netherlands’ Paralympic sports personality of the year, talks about personalised education at her school, Talentcollege OSG Sevenwolden. It’s there that they are helping her – between her sporting achievements, of course – to obtain her diploma.

Education and top sport

Despite being just 16, last summer in Rio de Janeiro Liesette Bruinsma picked up two gold, one silver and two bronze medals. Her school is part of the Netherlands’ National Organisation for Education and Top Sport. We asked Liesette how personalised education has helped her on her way to winning Olympic gold.

Has swimming always been more than a hobby for you?

No, not really. At first I swam because I enjoyed it. It was only later that I realised that swimming could become more than just a hobby. Then I dared to dream, with my goal being to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Games. As it turned out I succeeded four years earlier and went to Rio last summer! 

What kind of impression did the Games make on you?

Rio exceeded all my expectations! But to appreciate that you really have to have experienced it yourself. After all my hard work and training the sensation of being awarded a gold medal in a packed stadium was simply indescribable. I’ll never forget the 200-metre individual medley. Despite being way behind, I managed to pass everyone in the final 100 metres!

Training for the Olympic Games must take a lot of time and effort. How does OSG Sevenwolden make it possible for you to combine your swimming career with your schooling?

At school I don’t have a fixed timetable for lessons. I consult with then agree with my study coach about the times that I attend school. Training and competitions cost a lot of energy so I’ve agreed with my coach that I’ll go home if I’m tired and that I’ll keep working if I feel good. Next Monday, for example, I don’t have to attend school because I have a competition during the weekend. Sport is very important to me, but I’d also like to obtain my diploma.

So you decide when you learn?

Yes, we don’t have standard lessons. All top-sport students are in the same classroom and know exactly what to do for every subject. The teachers come to this classroom for a few hours a week to explain things to us and give us the necessary support. This also allows a lot of scope for personal guidance. We do all the work at school so we don’t have to do any homework.

Is it always easy to work independently like this?

It demands a lot of discipline, which, fortunately, top sporters are not short of. We know that it’s up to us to ensure we make the grade at school. And we realise that we are not attending school for the benefit of our parents or teachers, but for ourselves. If students can see that, everyone can follow this sort of education.

Does ICT play a role in your schoolwork?

I use a laptop with speech-recognition software and braille writing. Because of my impaired vision I often listen to texts and sometimes I cannot differentiate whether a word is spelled with a “d” or a “t”. If in doubt, I can show the letters in braille so I know what’s written.

What do the next few years hold for you?

My final exams will be spread out over a few years and I hope to do my last exams by 2019. The Tokyo Games will be a year later. In addition to swimming, I’d love to go to university, even though I have no idea at the moment what I want to study.

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