What shape the school of the future will take is amorphous, but most educators and observers agree that the future school will go electronic with a capital E.
Students, The Age asserts, will see and hear teachers on computers, with “remote learning” the trend of tomorrow. Accessing “classrooms” on their home computers, students will learn at times most convenient for them. Yet some attendance at an actual school will be required to help students develop appropriate social skills.”Next century, schools as we know them will no longer exist,” says a feature in The Age publication, based in Melbourne, Australia. “In their place will be community-style centers operating seven days a week, 24 hours a day.” Computers will become an essential ingredient in the recipe for an effective school of the future.
At Seashore Primary School, an imaginary school of the future created by the Education Department of Australia, technology is the glue that holds classes together. At the imaginary Seashore school:
- all teachers and students have laptop computers.
- teachers check voicemail and return students’ calls on a special telephone system.
- students use telephones to find information or speak to experts in subject areas they are studying.
- all lessons are multidisciplinary.
- all students have individual learning plans created by teachers.
As Seashore’s acting principal says, a laptop computer is the students’ “library, homework, data storage, and connection to the wider world. (Technology) has changed the emphasis to the learning of kids rather than the teaching of kids.”
A Real-Life School of the Future
Right here in the United States are public schools that strive to bring the future into the present. One of those schools, A.C.T. Academy in McKinney, Texas, was created as an actual “school of the future.” Originally funded by a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the school is now supported by the McKinney Independent School District.
At the school, knowledge is “actively constructed by the learner on a base of prior knowledge, attitudes, and values.” Sophisticated technology is in place to support the pursuit of knowledge.
The 250 Academy students all have access to a computer. The 12- to 18-year-olds each have their own computer; 7- to 11-year-olds have one portable computer for every two students; and 5- and 6-year-olds use computers at fixed stations. In addition, the students use multimedia computers, printers, CD-ROMs, laserdiscs, VCRs, video editing machines, camcorders, cable television, online services, and telephones — simple but effective research tools.
A.C.T. Academy has formed community partnerships and business mentorships to foster students’ learning experiences. The school is also in partnerships with other schools, colleges, universities, and research centers. The goal: to learn through all the different kinds of resources that real life offers.
Teachers assess student learning through portfolios and creative performance tasks. Again, the object is to use real-life approaches to assessment.
Working Toward Future Schools
The Center for the School of the Future (CSF) is the brainchild of the College of Education at Utah State University. The center’s main goals involve the creation and maintenance of a U.S. educational system that improves by selecting the most effective teaching practices. The mission of the center is to:
- identify the most effective teaching approaches, techniques, and ideologies,
- encourage innovations and their adaptation to specific circumstances,
- assist the creation of a community of parents and teachers who support each other in improving schools.
The CSF is forming a Research and Best Practice Clearinghouse, a Parent Academy, and a Teacher Academy. Those organizations will contribute to the creation of model schools. Such model schools, according to the CSF, will stand for:
- “equity and excellence,”
- teaching of basic skills combined with creative problem-solving,
- respect for individual values as well as diversity,
- preparation for democracy as well as a world economy.
Technology Is Key
Whatever the configuration of a school of the future might be, technology is always a huge part of it. Ginger Howenic, a consultant and director for The Classroom of the Future Foundation, recently made a presentation in the Lake Washington (Washington) School District. She was joined by Robert Clarke, executive director of the National School Co. Both emphasized technology.
Howenic formerly headed Clear View Elementary School, a charter school, in Chula Vista, California. At the presentation, she played a video from the school in which two boys studied bee anatomy with the help of an electron microscope and two professors. At the school, Hovenic says, kindergarten students use spreadsheets to track their height and weight through sixth grade.
Clarke’s company offers SONY Web TV packages to school districts for $207 per unit. The packages provide Internet access through regular televisions, assisting students whose families do not own computers.
The school days when computers meant word processing or playing games are already behind us. Yet no matter how great a part computers and other technologies play in the school of the future, it is only a means, advocates of technology say, to the greater end of enabling students to learn through interaction with various aspects of life.