Radical Reform: iPad Schools Seek to Transform Education

PHOTO: A second grader works on an Apple Inc. iPad as part of his classroom work at Park Lane Elementary school, in the Canyons School District, in Sandy, Utah, U.S. on May 20, 2013.
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Plenty of schools use iPads. But what if the entire education experience were offered via tablet computer? That is what several new schools in the Netherlands plan to do. There will be no blackboards or schedules. Is this the end of the classroom?

Think different. It was more than an advertising slogan. It was a manifesto, and with it, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs upended the computer industry, the music industry and the world of mobile phones. The digital visionary's next plan was to bring radical change to schools and textbook publishers, but he died of cancer before he could do it.

Some of the ideas that may have occurred to Jobs are now on display in the Netherlands. Eleven "Steve Jobs schools" will open in August, with Amsterdam among the cities that will be hosting such a facility. Some 1,000 children aged four to 12 will attend the schools, without notebooks, books or backpacks. Each of them, however, will have his or her own iPad.

There will be no blackboards, chalk or classrooms, homeroom teachers, formal classes, lesson plans, seating charts, pens, teachers teaching from the front of the room, schedules, parent-teacher meetings, grades, recess bells, fixed school days and school vacations. If a child would rather play on his or her iPad instead of learning, it'll be okay. And the children will choose what they wish to learn based on what they happen to be curious about.

Preparations are already underway in Breda, a town near Rotterdam where one of the schools is to be located. Gertjan Kleinpaste, the 53-year-old principal of the facility, is aware that his iPad school on Schorsmolenstraat could soon become a destination for envious -- but also outraged -- reformist educators from all over the world.

And there is still plenty of work to do on the pleasant, light-filled building, a former daycare center. The yard is littered with knee-deep piles of leaves. Walls urgently need a fresh coat of paint. Even the lease hasn't been completely settled yet. But everything will be finished by Aug. 13, Kleinpaste says optimistically, although he looks as though the stress is getting to him.

'Pretty Normal in 2020'

Last year, he was still the principal of a school that had precisely three computers, which he found frustrating. "It was no longer in keeping with the times," he says. Soon, however, Kleinpaste will be a member of the digital avant-garde. He is convinced that "what we are doing will seem pretty normal in 2020."

The Steve Jobs school will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 on every workday. The children will come and go as they please, as long as they are present during the core period between 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The building will only be closed for Christmas and New Year's. The children's families will be able to go on vacation when they please, and no child will have to be worried about missing class as a result, since classes in the traditional sense will be nonexistent.

Only in exceptional cases will a teacher direct classes in groups. Normally, the children will learn by calling up a learning app on their iPad -- which will be turned into a sort of interactive, multimedia schoolbook -- whenever they want.

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