Tablets in Dutch Schools Usher in a New Era

10 Jun

EGMOND-BINNEN, The Netherlands — Some of Robin Smorenberg’s students were shooting aliens on their iPads. “Ooh, I almost died!” one of them exclaimed at De Windhoek, the only primary school in the small Dutch town of Egmond-Binnen.

But Mr. Smorenberg did not mind. He had instructed his students to download the game, Math Evolve, which is part of the curriculum and which requires players to both shoot aliens and collect numbers that add up to a certain figure.

“We are very enthusiastic and we have seen great results,” Mr. Smorenberg said of his students, who are mostly 11 years old. The use of educational apps “has become an integrated part of their school life.”

De Windhoek’s iPad pilot project is ending with the close of this school year. But when classes start again in August, the school will continue using the Apple tablets and those students who were in Mr. Smorenberg’s class will move on to more difficult apps.

In August, at least 1,000 students in 10 other primary schools in the Netherlands will get iPads, in a teaching model developed by a foundation called O4NT, which is a Dutch acronym for “Education for a New Era.” (While De Windhoek uses iPads, it is not part of O4NT.)

According to government statistics, about 60 percent of Dutch residents with Internet access go online with mobile devices.

The Education Ministry does not interfere with individual schools’ choices for teaching materials, so O4NT participants — which, like most schools in the Netherlands, are public — are deciding for themselves how to fund the iPads. Some will use their own budgets, while others will charge parents or look for corporate donations.

Students at O4NT schools will have constant access to their iPads, which they can take home, and where time spent on an educational apps will count as school time.

“There is a mismatch between the digital world at home and the analog world at school,” Maurice de Hond, a political pollster who founded O4NT, said at his home in Amsterdam.

Hans Theeboom, who is responsible for 12 primary schools in Almere, two of which will adopt the O4NT model, said that children were more motivated to learn from a tablet’s interactive experience. “It is much more exciting to advance to another level than to turn the page of a book,” he said. Teachers can use yet another app, commissioned by the O4NT foundation, to track students’ advancements.

Some parents might be reluctant to send their children to a school where they get to play games on a tablet. But Mr. De Hond and Mr. Theeboom emphasized that there would be plenty of time away from the screen. “These children will not be sitting behind their iPad all day,” Mr. Theeboom said.

Since tablets are so new — the iPad is only three years old — not much is known about their long-term effects.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know much. There is little research,” said Remco Pijpers, who leads the Mijn Kind Online foundation, which advises parents on media use and is not related to O4NT.

“Our entire society is saturated with screens,” he added. “Education can’t ignore it.”

While the iPad is now a popular education tool in countries like the United States, particularly at the college or university level, it is also catching on in Europe.

In the 2012/2013 school year, the Swiss canton of Solothurn introduced iPads to classrooms. And at the Essa Academy, a state school in Bolton, Britain, every student has been given an iPod Touch, which they can use both in the classroom and at home.

O4NT wants to change the way schools work, not only through technology, but also by rethinking the very basics of how brick and mortar buildings are used, and how class hours and academic years are scheduled and structured. The model’s creators believe that a more flexible system is needed, particularly to alleviate pressure on working parents.

The idea is to have brick and mortar buildings that are open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 50 weeks a year. The additional hours are not for formal schooling, but for additional child care, as needed. The fact that the schools will be open through traditional summer and other holidays will open up more vacation-time options. If a family decides to travel, say, during February and March, the children can do their schoolwork remotely, or make up the missed classes in the summer, according to Mr. de Hond.

So far, few schools are ready to be open for such long hours immediately, though one school in Sneek, in the north, is going to act as a flagship for the program.

Schools that are able to adhere to all the manifesto’s requirements will be able to be renamed as a Steve Jobs School, after the Apple executive behind the iPad’s creation.

Gepubliceerd op de website van The New York Times op zondag 9 juni 2013 en in de International Herald Tribune op maandag 10 juni 2013

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