A few taps on an iPad can get you into Eastwood College’s latest classes. The Arabic instructor gives you the day’s lecture and a few more taps bring up the required reading, lessons and graded quiz.
The traditional book and paper experience of school work is being centralized into one digital device for students to access everywhere at Eastwood College. Textbooks are given to students in digital form along with videos, applications and class work for nearly every subject ranging from science experiments to literature.
Every day students at the school’s Mansourieh campus come to class with most of their work on one thin tablet computer. Eastwood College has integrated iPads into every class level including preschool. They are the first grade school in the country to make such a large leap into the digital classroom, and one of just a few in the region.
“In one nice display you have your pdfs, your homework, your assignments and your applications,” said Michel Khoury, headmaster of Eastwood College.
“Every single subject from grade 5 to grade 12 is completely on the iPad, including the Arabic books,” he said.
Two years ago Eastwood College instructors began formatting their class work in digital format. They converted paper handouts into digital files and found links for supplemental videos. The classes were packaged into an online template made by Apple and sent to the student’s online accounts.
IPads became a mandatory purchase for Eastwood College students last year, and now all 55 teachers and 135 students do their course work and grading on the tablet. It was an initiative to make kids more tech savvy, but more importantly to try and make class material more engaging.
Chapters in history textbooks about World War II come with a video of Winston Churchill and an analysis by prestigious academics. Literature classes have sound clips from the authors being studied, while dangerous chemistry experiments can be shown in video form.
“It engages the student in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Khoury said.
The main drawback to the iPad program so far is Lebanon’s infrastructure. The classes are all uploaded online and Eastwood College has to pay expensive bills to cover Internet fees.
“I don’t understand how a government can charge $1,500 on a mediocre, not even mediocre, submediocre Internet for kids,” Khoury said.
Despite the infrastructure setback that’s unlikely to improve soon, the program will be going forward. Students are seen clutching their iPads walking around the school and the program has had enough positive feedback for Khoury to expand the digital class program to the school’s other branch, in the Beirut suburb of Kfar Shima.
Jihane Francis’ daughter just started classes at Eastwood College.
The 3-year-old uses the iPad two times a week, when she uses reading applications that show her the words she’s learning, along with color and sorting games.
“It’s not like watching cartoons and it’s not like being in front of a TV because it actually engages the child,” she said. “I feel like when she’s using the iPad she focuses more on whatever she is learning.”
Francis expressed her enthusiasm about the potential benefits that Mavie has been receiving from her early experience with technology. The experience, she argued, has made Mavie learn about setting limits and allocating time.
“It was a little bit of a struggle with me as her mom, because she loved it so much. It was a bit of a struggle for me to take it away from her,” Francis said.
“It doesn’t take away from books and pens, which I really have to say are important; it reinforces [the schoolwork],” she said.
For upper levels, the classwork isn’t much different from traditional work; the difference is that it’s digital. That means no lost papers or excuses for incomplete work. After students complete their work, the answers go directly to the teacher.
Raya Abdallah’s son, who is in the 8th grade, does all his assignments on the iPad, making for a notable improvement at home.
“It’s much easier for him than before,” she said.
IPads, which cost between $500-700, are quite an investment for a family, but many parents have high regard for the new program.
Classwork may be easily accessed from home so nothing will ever be lost and sick students have access to the day’s materials.
Having an Internet connection around can be distracting, Abdallah said, but that’s part of learning to be part of the digital world.
“They are responsible kids in the end, and they are using it to do their homework,” she added.