July 31, 2021

In London, the Winston-Churchill high school in the age of digital tablets

The 24 schoolchildren of 3e silently work on their physical exercise. Some work alone, others in small groups, and their teacher makes herself available to support them. Ordinary scene in a classroom lesson, except for one detail: these teenagers all write on their iPads. With the exception of one student who also uses a sheet of paper.

At the Lycée international Winston-Churchill in London, a private French establishment, all students receive an iPad upon entry into 6e. “Rather than buying a bunch of books, we distribute tablets, it comes at the same price”, explains Mireille Rabaté, the principal. It will be their main working tool in college and high school. Classes and homework are transmitted to each child via the Classroom software, published by Google.

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“When I was asked to open this school, the roadmap was to create the school of the XXIe century, explains Mireille Rabaté. But it’s not the iPads that make the school modern. “ For her, it is only a tool, which makes it possible to teach differently. “It’s the equivalent of the slate of yesteryear, but with the Internet. It’s easy to handle, it can be seen from afar, turn around… ”

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During physics, Marie Lahorgue, the teacher, enthusiastically confirms. Arrived three years ago after going through an establishment in Agen (Lot-et-Garonne), she highlights the flexibility provided by tablets. “I can much more easily differentiate the teaching according to the level of the pupils. If one of them finished an exercise before the others, I can give a new one, for example. “

What prevents doing the same with paper? “There are things as simple as the limit on photocopying. In my previous establishment, each teacher had the right to a limited number, which reduces the possibilities. “ It’s hard to know in advance how many students will go at what speed anyway, and the tablet offers that flexibility. It is also possible to include videos in the courses, or links. A pupil can also project the exercise he has just performed on the screen, to show his method to everyone. Another advantage: “We don’t waste time copying the course. “ A detail, but which allows to better concentrate on the learning itself.

No free access

Yann Houry, the institution’s innovation director and French teacher, for his part records various dictations in advance. Depending on their level, students follow one of the versions, with their headphones in their ears. “I give the whole program for the year in September, with different tracks depending on the difficulties. Then i am student progress. “

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It is not about leaving middle school and high school students to themselves with free access to the Internet. IPads are restricted according to age. YouTube is not accessible in 6e and only gradually becomes so in the upper classes. The App Store, which allows you to download applications, is also not available for younger children. Netflix is ​​blocked regardless of age. Either way, teachers have access to student iPads and can monitor what everyone is doing in the classroom.

During the first wave of the pandemic, in March 2020, the establishment was immediately ready to switch to distance education. Almost no day was wasted. “Many students, who preferred calm at home, were even able to advance faster”, testifies Julien Astruc, the director of the college. The difference was visible with students who arrived from France in September, who had some shortcomings after having experienced a period without education during the first confinement.

For students, the tablet is obvious. “I discovered this about ten years ago in San Francisco, explains Mireille Baraté. Young people immediately take ownership of the machine. If they look at an image on it, they enlarge it, rotate it, manipulate it… Whereas with a handout, the format is fixed. “

Educational work against parents

The way of learning, on the other hand, confused the parents a lot. It took some pedagogy to explain this new method. When the pupil arrives in the establishment, the iPad is not given to him, but to his parents. ” The first year [en 2015], we were really the only ones to do that and we had to explain a lot ”, says Mireille Baraté. Parents were reassured at the sight of the exam results: 100% success in the bac, including a third of very good mentions in 2019 (two thirds in 2020, during the pandemic).

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Tablets are only one of the elements behind this success. The fact that education is fully bilingual French-English, that the children largely come from privileged backgrounds (the annual fees are 15,000 euros, even if there are grants), that the classes are less than 25 students is at least as important. “A bad teacher stays bad with an iPad”, recalls Mireille Rabaté.

In primary school, tablets exist but remain under the control of teachers. Such an electronic tool requires first of all to have a certain autonomy in learning, which the youngest do not have. It is also necessary to develop the writing, so that the writing by hand is mastered.

Mireille Baraté wonders, however: will the iPad soon be outdated? Unlike the worldwide success of the iPhone, the Apple tablet has not established itself in such a general way. The principal looked at Chromebooks, which are laptops with keyboard that double as a tablet. “It’s interesting, but not revolutionary. After all, print took five hundred years to be outdated. “

This article is produced as part of a partnership with In-FINE, an international digital forum for education.