Radical Reform: iPad Schools Seek to Transform Education


The program is more patient than any person ever could be and turns learning into a game-like experience, partly with the help of amusing noises and animations. In each exercise, the children are corrected the way players are in a computer game. They don't have to work through entire chapters, as they did in the past. The goal is to enable them to reach the next level in the learning program at their own pace. The teacher's role is to help them, not as conveyors of knowledge but as learning coaches. "The interaction between the child and the teacher remains the foundation of the lesson," as Kleinpaste puts it.

As such, the school day never really ends. Pupils are welcome to keep working on their iPads at home, on weekends or on vacation. But as much as the program offers freedom and continuity, it also comes with a substantial monitoring component. The iPad keeps teachers and parents constantly informed about what children are doing, what they have learned and how they are progressing. If a math app is neither enjoyable nor successful, the teacher simply orders another one. The supply of educational programs never runs dry in Apple's online app store.

Not Truly Relevant

Arithmetic, reading skills and text comprehension are the core subjects in the elementary school. Good handwriting has been downgraded to a secondary skill, nice for industrious pupils but not truly relevant.

Every six weeks, teachers, children and parents decide together what is to be achieved in the next learning period. To do so, they meet at school or virtually via Skype. The era of the 10-minute parent-teacher meeting once a year is a thing of the past in the Steve Jobs schools.

And when they are not working on iPads, the future principal insists, students at Steve Jobs schools will lead the lives of perfectly normal children. Drawing, building things, playing and physical activity are all part of daily life at the schools.

"It isn't as if the children will just be sitting in front of a screen here," Kleinpaste promises.

Debbie Hengeveld, 41, found the concept so convincing that she promptly enrolled both of her children, her seven-year-old daughter Freeke and her 10-year-old son Joep. "Children innately want to learn things," says Hengeveld. "Here they can remain who they are. They aren't shaped by teachers and lesson plans."

The initiator of the iPad schools is the well-known Amsterdam public opinion researcher Maurice de Hond, 65, a man with an affinity for digital life. He is proud of the fact that he has known how to program computers since 1965. His daughter Daphne, born in 2009, pointed the way for him.

'Revolution of Little Children'

Before she was even three years old, Daphne was learning how to draw letters with the help of an iPad app. De Hond is constantly astonished by the things she can now do with the device, effortlessly and of her own volition. "We are experiencing a revolution of little children," he says. This generation, he explains, experiences real and virtual life as one big entity. But analog schools threaten to suppress half of that equation, he says.

"At home, Daphne learns naturally, according to her own pace, interactively and using multimedia tools," says de Hond. Why should she feel "like she's in a museum" when she's in school, he asks? The classic chalk-and-blackboard teachers, he adds angrily, "are preparing children for a world that no longer exists."

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