This Extraordinary School Has No Classes


It’s unimaginable. Can a school still be called a school if students do not attend classes and teachers do not teach?

In the city of Roermond in the Netherlands, an education institute known as Agora School directs its students to set their own learning goals and pursue their interests. Throughout the school term, each student receives guidance and coaching from the respective teacher monitoring their progress.

The students, ages 12 to 18, are not grouped according to their ages or educational paths. Instead, each group comprises diverse ages and abilities.

At Tueetor, we’re always interested in learning and enabling others to do so. When we discovered the Agora school in this post on Medium, we were naturally curious! How do they do it? Was there no opposition? The skeptic among us wondered, “Maybe it’s just one class experimenting with this approach?” And being Singaporean, we asked, “How do they prepare for exams?”

Schooling At Agora

The post is by Andrew Webb, head of content of edutech company Pi-Top. In it, he outlines the basic pedagogy and teaching methodology employed by Agora. He also describes his visit to the school.

“I met students exploring subjects as diverse as German mountain guides, Mongolian horses, blacksmithing, Harry Potter patronuses, tables and skateboards. It is the job of the teacher – who here is called a coach – to challenge and guide that exploration process.

The staff, who are responsible for around 17 students each, also have to ensure there are tangible results and genuine development, as well as work with each student on ways to continue developing the learning journey.”

Andrew Webb
Photo of Agora School by LIAG Architects via Architizer

A Typical Day at Agora

In most schools, students are instructed what to do and taught how to get it done. In Agora, students decide this for themselves. Every morning, each student jots down their goals for the day and the kind of help they require.

“Each day starts with dagstart, where students spend a few minutes outlining their challenges for the day, what they hope to achieve and what help they might need. It’s also a chance for other students to suggest things, offer advice or join in.”

Andrew Webb

This process of dagstart, a Dutch word literally translated as ‘day start’, is described in detail by another blogger, who also wrote about Agora on Medium.

“The classroom didn’t feel like a classroom, but more of a co-working space: a bunch of chairs and desks here and there, with no particular order, all the kids with their own Chromebooks and a huge TV for presentations. Our office in Amsterdam doesn’t look very different than this.

[The teacher] asked the pupils to spend 10 minutes preparing their “challenges”, figuring out tasks for today associated with them and finally be able to present to the whole class their plan for today, to show that they have enough to do.

… A girl took the first slot: she is interested in psychology and wanted to learn a bit more about that, and her mother recommended her to have a career in physiotherapy, so she will be looking into that as well. From her log of activities it was showing that she had already did some research about those topics: there was a small cart about foam rollers in the “Done” column of his board. For each of these goals, she wrote down a start date and an end date, effectively “time-boxing” these tasks.

… The second pupil to take the stage was going to move to Spain with her family and had two tasks, “learning Spanish politics” and “language”. Because the latter was very non-descriptive and without a clear end in sight, a fellow student stepped in and recommended her to break it down in small, achievable subtasks. A few more children gave their presentations, and their goal could not be more different: learn horse-riding, improve their math skills, and so on.”

Davide Taviani

After dagstart, the students go off on their own to accomplish the goals they had set out for the day. They can choose to attend seminars, do research, plan a field trip, or even apply for leave to conduct an interview outside.

What About Exams?

So do the students take the national exams? Yes, they do! Agora is a school officially recognised by the state and has to abide by national standards. After two years of self-directed learning in their chosen topics, a student start preparing for the exams in the third year.

Instead of sitting for an exam at the end of six years, students attend an exam for one or two subjects every year throughout the next three to four years. When they have passed a certain number of subjects, they are awarded their High School Diploma.

Can a school like this, where students do not attend classes and teachers do not teach, be called a school? We say yes, it’s the school of the future!

The Goal of Education

As parents and educators, we want the best education for our children and students. What does this mean and what does this actually look like?

Exploring the way Agora School works, its beliefs and pedagogy, has given us the inspiration to think more deeply about our goals for education. As this academic year comes to a close in a couple of months, it’s time to plan for next year. How can the next academic year better bring out the potential of our learners? How can the way we do education truly prepare them for the future?

Besides increasing knowledge and critical thinking, it’s also important to develop mental tenacity, creativity, and the social skills to work with others. Perhaps these are qualities we want to consider when choosing the classes and courses we sign up for ourselves and for our children.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

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