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What Can We Learn From a School Where Teachers Don’t Teach and Children Choose Why, What, How, When and If They Want to Learn?

Our Ian Gilbert went on an expedition to the Agora School in The Netherlands. This is what he found out.

Agora is a school within Nikée School in Roermond in the south east of the country. They regularly host visitors from across the world who are keen to learn more about their approach to learning. And it all about ‘learning’ and not ‘education’ as our host for the visit, coach (‘don’t call me a teacher’) @robhouben was at points to point out.

The driving force behind the school’s set up is that the traditional education-driven school model makes children learn things they don’t want to learn in a way that doesn’t suit them at a time that isn’t right for them and is a ridiculous process shored up by a regime of energy-sapping behaviour systems, time-consuming classroom management and a testing regime that has the same effect as taking the carrot out of the ground every few days to see how well it is growing.

What the educators behind Agora did was to rip up the rule book about what education is all about and focus instead on the innate power children have to learn combined with the fact that responsibility and control, like respect and hugging, are things you get by giving. In Agora, children choose their own challenges and then set about achieving them inside and outside of the school environment (a remarkable student-designed environment in itself — see pic) with the support of — but not the teaching by — their coaches, qualified teachers embracing the Agora way.

On our visit, children were happy, eloquent (in Dutch and English) and motivated, loving the freedoms and real-world challenges of the Agora model and glad to be away from the ‘boring turn to page 10 and copy’ processes they had experienced elsewhere.

While there may well be no middle ground between a conventional school intent on hanging onto its traditional education-driven structures and a school like Agora, what is interesting are the ‘Seven Habits’ they say underpin this model, habits that we believe any educator can learn from, regardless of their setting:

1. Own you own development and growth

You’re in charge of your life, not us. Want us to teach you? We won’t. Want us to tell you what to do? We won’t. Want us to make sure you succeed? We won’t. So, what do you want and what are you going to do about it?

2. Discover and orientate

What is out there? What does the world have to offer and what does the world need? That’s where your challenge lies. Think beyond what you already know. What do you need in order to succeed and who and what can help you?

3. Connect

You’re never more alone than when you’re in an exam. But learning doesn’t have to be that way. Identify and develop the web of connections you need to be part of to achieve your goals.

4. Communicate

The better you are at communicating the more successful you will be. But remember, it’s a two-way street. What will you give in return when you reach out to the busy world beyond school?

5. Reflect

How can you be better in the future — what worked and what didn’t? And how can we better — what helped you and what didn’t? And what did we all learn from the experience?

6. Share

While the challenges you set yourself are yours, that does not mean you are working on your own. By sharing your learning you can benefit from the wisdom, skills and knowledge of others — young and old — as well as help them with their goals.

7. Research

What worked? What did you do, where did you go and who did you turn to in order to help you achieve what you have achieved? What sources did you cover, uncover or discover? What have you learned about learning?

This, of course, is a very quick overview of a fascinating school and we look forward to sharing more in due course. In the meantime, please do hook up with @robhouben if you want to learn more or maybe visit for yourself.

No-one, let alone Agora, is saying you have to do it like they are doing it. But what schools like this prove is, as we at Independent Thinking keep saying, there is always another way. [ITL]

To find out more about booking Ian Gilbert for your school, college or organisation call us on 01267 211432 or drop us an email on

About the author

Ian Gilbert

Ian Gilbert is an award-winning writer, editor, speaker, innovator and the founder of Independent Thinking. He has lived and worked in Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia and is privileged to have such a global view of education and education systems.

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