Making a Difference: 21st-Century Schooling

The Schools of the Future initiative seeks to transform Island education.

Adrian Allan, headmaster of Le Jardin Academy stands in one of his students’ high-tech classrooms.

Photo: Rae Huo

Forget dusty blackboards or listening to boring lectures; some of Hawaii’s students are using smart boards—interactive touch screens—and listening to teacher podcasts on their iPods. Welcome to 21st-century education.

This technology is made possible through the Schools of the Future initiative, a five-year, $5 million grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation. The foundation teamed up with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools to give teachers and students better access to the latest technology as a way of improving local schools. 

“We have to work a lot harder to engage our students,” says Chris van Bergeijk, vice president of programs at the Hawaii Community Foundation. “The model of teaching and learning hasn’t really changed in 40 years, but think about how much our kids have changed, think about where they learn and how they learn and the multiple sources of information that come at them at one time.” 


Twenty private institutions from Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island were chosen to participate in the initiative. But this education transformation is more than working with the latest software, says van Bergeijk. “It’s about creating a different kind of classroom that embraces a change in both teaching and learning, that emphasizes creativity, innovation, collaborative thinking and good communication skills.”

Van Bergeijk explains that Schools of the Future is based on three concepts: professional development for the teachers, a redesign of curriculum and integrating technology into the classroom.

The grant benefits a variety of schools, from those as small as Hongwanji Mission School in Nuuanu Valley, to those as large as Mid-Pacific Institute. It does not, however, aid those that need the additional funding the most—public schools. “I wish we could involve public schools. We’re restricted by the nature of the fund,” says van Bergeijk, explaining that funds for the grant came from the estate of local developer Robert E. Black, who had specified that they be used for private institutions only.

While public-school students may not be getting new laptops, or their teachers receiving additional training, van Bergeijk notes that participating teachers with Schools of the Future are using a social media Web site to brainstorm and share what they’ve learned with public-school teachers. The initiative also calls for an annual conference, to which both private and public schools will be invited to attend. “Everyone has been really excited by the initiative and wants to share with others,” she says.

Although the initiative isn’t even a year old, schools have already put the funds to use. Teachers at Le Jardin Academy in Kailua are using the school’s $58,500 to conduct teacher training in the area of technology. “The project isn’t so much about technology, but how to best utilize it in the classroom,” says Adrian Allan, the academy’s headmaster. “Students are way ahead of their teachers when it comes to technology, so we are redesigning the philosophy of how we teach.”

Le Jardin teachers have begun working with IT personnel to incorporate cell-phone applications, video and Wikipedia editing into the classroom. The technology training will also benefit the academy’s international baccalaureate criteria, a program of internationally accepted qualifications for admission into college.

This summer, Sacred Hearts Academy used its $64,000 to allow some teachers to redesign their curricula based on skills such as collaborative thinking, technology use and incorporating different ways of demonstrating a child’s mastery of the subject.

“It’s customizing learning for the student,” says van Bergeijk. “Part of the transformation is moving from the standard subject matter delivered in one way, to a classroom that has many more opportunities to customize learning.” Other schools, such as St. Anthony School and St. John Vianney Parish School, will use the initiative’s grant to provide iPods to the students to allow them to listen to teacher podcasts. Hanalani Schools will build upon its robotics program.

“This initiative makes learning more relevant for individual students,” says Allan. “It gets every student involved … and provides more access and flexibility.”

 To learn more about Schools of the Future, visit