Waldorf says no to Wi-Fi
Apr 06, 2012 - 7:00 AM
The private school in Burlington has an ‘old school’ attitude towards technology, banning computers from its classrooms and having no Wi-Fi capability throughout the Orchard Road facility.
“Our classrooms are computer-free. The Waldorf philosophy supports the importance of authentic interaction between students and teachers and nurtures a child’s imagination without the aid of electronic media,” said Nancy de Guerre, the school’s enrolment and human resources co-ordinator
“He (Jobs) said technology can’t fix education,” noted de Guerre.
Founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, the aim of a Waldorf school is to provide an academic curriculum that is integrated with music, drama, movement and the arts.
Halton Waldorf opened in 1984 in Campbellville with just 16 kindergarten pupils. A grade was added each year. The school has been in Burlington since 2000 and has 176 students in kindergarten through Grade 8, as well as early childhood programs.
Halton Waldorf has never had computers in its classrooms. There are five computers in the school, four for administrators and one for teachers. Teachers are also allowed to bring in a laptop computer to perform word processing.
“Grades 7 and 8s will do research on computers at home but they don’t do it in class. We are not teaching computer skills,” said Lylli Anthon, a past Waldorf teacher and the current faculty chair.
“We believe in fostering direct relationships and computers don’t do that,” said Anthon, who had three children go through Halton Waldorf.
“There is so much happening here — choir, (learning languages), music. It’s a very full day of engaging activities,” she added.
Anthon said their Grade 8s study the binary number system and will take apart a computer to identify its components and function.
“We have no objection to using computers but it isn’t part of (our) teaching component.”
You won’t find devices like iPads or even overhead projectors or calculators in its primary grade classrooms. Lessons are done on a traditional blackboard with students seated in old-style wooden desks, some with flip-up lids. Math problems are done in longhand with pencil and paper.
Calculators are used by some Grade 7s and 8s.
Report cards for Waldorf students from Grades 1-7 are anecdotal with grade or percentage marks only offered in Grade 8 to aid graduating students in their transition to high school.
“We say we educate the head and the hands,” said de Guerre.
She had a son and daughter attend Halton Waldorf and said the lack of computers in school wasn’t an issue for them.
“I know with my daughter, she reflected on it positively. She is very balanced and loves learning,” said de Guerre, noting there were computers in their home but the kids were introduced to the technology gradually.
Halton Waldorf officials say more and more high-tech executives — such as Google and Apple employees — are choosing to send their children to low-tech environments that focus on developing creative and critical thinking skills.
Halton Waldorf has about two-dozen instructors. Anthon said the majority of their school’s educators have either BA, BSc or MA university degrees.
“They may or may not have mainstream teacher training, many do but not all. We have subject teacher specialists and they have Waldorf training,” she added.
Halton Waldorf is in the category of a non-inspected private school, but it has to meet certain education ministry criteria. It has full accreditation from the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA).
De Guerre said about 80 per cent of their students move on to a local public high school while the remainder go to a private high school or the Waldorf high school in Thornhill, at the Steiner Centre.
Waldorf high schools allow students to use computers and other various electronic devices.
Meanwhile, at Halton Waldorf handwriting and the art of calligraphy are taught between Grades 6-8.
“It’s also about the human element and experiencing real things; we do live things,” de Guerrre said. “The more time kids are on the computer they are not engaging the real world.”
Halton Waldorf’s curriculum includes playing musical instruments, singing, acting and using simple hand tools to make wooden objects.
“We really believe it engages the student in their activity and their will. The arts are woven into the curriculum, but it’s not an art school,” Anthon said.
“The catchword now in some schools is teaching creativity — we’ve been doing that at Waldorf for about 100 years,” she added.
Class sizes at Halton Waldorf range from 12-20 pupils with the average around 15. Most students will only have one or two teachers instruct them between Grades 1-8.
Grade 8 Halton Waldorf student Tess Coman said she prefers to get her information from a teacher rather than from “the strangers who post it on a computer.”
“I use a computer at home but I normally do my homework in the living room (without it),” said Coman, noting her computer use is split evenly between school-related research and social/personal time.
She said she doesn’t miss not having technology at her fingertips while in school.
Fellow Grade 8 student Shayla Shewchuk said she uses a computer at home as well for school research but that the majority of her time online is for social networking.
She said she is “a little bit” curious about what it would be like to have modern technology in the classroom but feels it is a matter of not missing what you never had.
The 13 year old said she likes her school’s teaching philosophy.
“I feel like instead of just memorizing information we just know how to think of it. In math, instead of memorizing formulas we are taught how to find the formulas,” said Shewchuk.
De Guerre said the school’s students go on to be good students in high school and beyond but admits it’s hard to quantify their level of achievement relative to students who attended publicly-funded elementary schools.
“When we have alumni come back to speak to us they say they have a good sense of who they are and what they know. They tend to be well-rounded people,” said de Guerre. “Sometimes it takes them some time to understand that. In Grades 8 and 9 they didn’t always see it but when they got to adulthood they got it.”
The base tuition at Halton Waldorf is $11,650 for a student in Grades 1-8.
It’s a steep price, but Anthon says it is not a school for the financial elite.
“Is this the best place that will meet the needs of the child?” is the basic question parents have to ask themselves, she said. “We have a range of people here” in terms of socio-economic status, she noted.
There is financial aid for families that qualify.
Caroline Liptay and her husband are qualified high school teachers who have had four kids attend Halton Waldorf, two of whom are still there.
“We don’t like computers very much,” Liptay said of her family. “I use a computer to (plan) a vacation; it’s good for that…. We are old fashioned … (but) we are not out of touch with reality.”
She said she had one son with a 90 per cent average in school and that the mark was achieved with no computer in their home until he was in Grade 12. Her high school-aged children are allowed to use a computer at home but not the younger ones.
She says popular social media tools like Facebook aren’t allowed in her home.
“Where’s the parenting? But we (society) do nothing about it.”
Liptay likes that Waldorf students learn the art of penmanship and read hand-held books.
“The teachers teach a lesson and the student writes notes and compose an assignment. They learn how to write an essay and spell and think. Computers do that for you but are you thinking? The school chooses to let children use their imagination and think for themselves.”
The use of technology is a vastly different story at the Halton Catholic and public school boards where computers are omnipresent.
At the Halton public board, for example, a group of students at Bruce Trail elementary school in Milton are finding their voices through the use of a touch-screen device with free applications.
Functional Communication Program (FCP) students have been using iPads for two years as part of their daily learning.
Many FCP students find it difficult to communicate through everyday language and tablet devices like iPads have given them an opportunity to express their thoughts and learn.
The Halton Catholic board has embraced technology and is contemplating expanding its use.
“It’s not a focus on technology but on what students need to learn in the 21st century and how does technology support that,” said Suzanne Rossini, a superintendent of education with the Catholic board.
“We have seen the power and value around that (technology)” especially for students with special needs,” she said.
Rossini said almost all elementary schools within the Halton Catholic board have wireless technology.
“They have computer labs, classroom computers, roaming laptop schools, more than 200 iPads, SMART Boards (interactive whiteboards) and printers for student access,” she said.
The board’s secondary schools have, on average, 10 computer labs and a large technology “installation” in their libraries.
Rossini also noted it is possible the board might allow students to bring their electronic devices to school as early as the next school year for use as a learning tool.
She noted the Halton Catholic board’s 21st Century Teaching and Learning steering committee will make a recommendation soon that the board’s current ‘acceptable use’ policy be reviewed by staff and trustees to “reflect the pervasive use of technology by our staff and students.”
To the east of Halton, The Peel District School Board is already headed in that direction.
The board, representing Mississauga and Brampton public schools, has 140,000 students who will be encouraged to bring their smartphones, iPads, tablets and laptops to class in what the board calls its 21st-century learning plan.
“The days when kids go into the computer lab for an hour and that’s their technology for the day, those days are over, “ said Brian Woodland, director of communications for the Peel board.
“There’s a need to move from an investment in a computer lab to technology that’s more portable,” he said, as well as programs that give kids access to their work after school hours.
Peel public board trustees voted recently to spend $7 million, in part to add wireless technology and increase its bandwidth in schools.
Such plans raise questions about equity, especially for lower-income students who don’t own such devices or have access to them outside of school — a growing issue that has been dubbed the ‘app gap.’
The Peel board plans to purchase tablets, or the like, to “ensure equity of access to technology for all students through classroom computers and tablets in schools.”