ABU DHABI // Textbooks, blackboards, chalk … they're so last century. Next week school pupils as young as 7 or 8 will start learning with iPads and laptops.
Not only that, but parents will be able to watch the children's progress via classroom cameras connected to the internet.
The iClass initiative is part of Abu Dhabi Education Council's New School Model, launched last year with the aim of promoting critical thinking, free learning, problem solving and teamwork by using different resources and technology.
The pilot programme in grades three and four at eight government schools in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Garbia is expected to be extended to all schools in the emirate by next year.
"We were working on a model that revolved only around the textbook and the teacher," said Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec.
"We do not want the teacher to be restricted to only one resource and are working to include all forms of technology, the internet and games to teach."
The iClass will provide a multimedia spin to Arabic, English, mathematics and science, with pupils carrying out practical assignments on the laptops and Apple tablet computers for a few hours each day. The classrooms will also be equipped with interactive blackboards and tabletop touch screens.
Dr Karima Al Mazroui, manager of the Arabic curriculum section at Adec, said pupils will have easy access to all lessons taught on their new technology.
"Most children are already hooked on their iPhones and BlackBerrys and sometimes know more than us," she said. "This makes it essential to use such technology for their academic benefit as well."
Adec has prepared specific materials and applications for these classes. The iPads will be preloaded with several Arabic-language applications, or apps.
"It is easy to find English teaching resources but there are very few in Arabic," said Dr Al Mazroui.
The authority has created alphabet kits that comprise books, guides and software for teachers.
"Children will also be expected to read and research more, reading at least one Arabic and one English book a week. They will then have to conduct discussions on them in class."
Cameras will allow classrooms in different schools to be connected together. That way, said Dr Al Khaili, pupils "can collaborate and learn together despite being in different schools".
They will also allow parents to monitor their children's progress and lessons. "Parents and Adec can see what is happening during these classes by accessing a website," said Dr Al Mazroui. "This allows parents to understand the new way of teaching.
"It also makes communication between parent and teacher easier, because they can check their child's assessment records, homework and send feedback by using a designated website."
There will be training and workshops for teachers on the effective use of technology in the classroom.
Teachers from other schools will be sent to those in the pilot to observe the classes so they can incorporate similar activities for their own pupils.
"We aim to have such classrooms in every school, and pupils can use the programmes for various subjects," said Dr Al Khaili.
Adec began a Dh350 million upgrade of the IT infrastructure at government schools last year. More than 150 schools have already been fitted with wireless internet and other facilities, with the rest to be completed by November.
The revamp includes an electronic student information system that stores pupils' records.
"We want all school-based work to be done via the internet," said Dr Al Khaili. "Every parent, teacher and pupil will have a username and password to access all school information and academic work."
Omar Al Saadi, a technology teacher at the Ghantoot School, is looking forward to the pilot. "This is how all children will learn in the future," he said.