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Report Authors Foresee Dramatic Technological Changes for Schools

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Washington--Schools will undergo dramatic change because of technology whether or not educators take a leadership role in directing that change, according to the co-authors of a forthcoming book on the subject.

The book, Schools of the Future--Education Into the 21st Century, was researched by Forecasting International Ltd. of Arlington, Va., with funding and staff support from the American Association of School Administrators.

The aasa is expected to release a preliminary report on the book in January. It will be published in April by the McGraw-Hill Book Company.

"We will either reconceptualize or rebuild schools or it will be done for us in the home market," said Margaret Gayle, a co-author of the book. "I don't think there's a choice. It will be slower if the schools don't initiate the action, but we will see the kids themselves and parents taking over more and more the processes of learning."

Ms. Gayle, associate director for vocational education in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, joined Marvin Cetron, also a co-author, here last month at a meeting of writers and editors sponsored by the International Business Machines Corporation.

Education at Home

"In 1987, 50 percent of the homes in the U.S. will have interactive cable," Mr. Cetron said, referring to the home cable-television lines that technically make two-way communication possible. "Ninety-two percent of the homes will have interactive cable by 1991."

"This means," he added, "that you'll probably have the kids in K-3 going to school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the kids in 4-6 going to school Tuesday and Thursday. The other days of the week, when they don't go to school, they'll be educated at home with interactive cable."

The school itself, Mr. Cetron said, "will be a social center not only for school kids during the day time, but adult education at night for the unemployed. And business people will use the school to train their people on computers. We see a whole concept of change."

Major Trends Pinpointed

The book was based in part on the researchers' development of a computerized databank that identifies 200 major trends and 3,500 major events, and calculates the probability that any will occur within five or 10 years, Mr. Cetron said. The items range from possible developments in foreign affairs and world resources to such school-related events as increases in the length of the school day and year.

In addition, questionnaires were sent to 900 school administrators throughout the country. The administrators were given a list of events that could possibly occur and were asked whether, in fact, they were already happening or had a chance of happening in their communities by either 1990 or 2000. The school officials were also asked what the impact of the events would be.

For example, Ms. Gayle said, the administrators were asked whether "there are any schools in your system that now have children working at home," and whether that kind of arrangement is likely in the future.

The administrators, Mr. Cetron said, answered that the home/schooling link exists "only in a few areas on a test basis," and that "there's a 50-50 chance that 10 percent of our students could be learning at home in the 1990's."

Scenarios for the Future

Ms. Gayle said she and Barbara Soriano, the third co-author of the book, then wrote scenarios for the future based on the forecasts made and data collected by Mr. Cetron.

The bulk of the data, Mr. Cetron said, has been embargoed by the aasa until its national meeting in March. Highlights of the findings will be published by the aasa in January, he added.

"The school of the future, I really think, has so many possibilities in terms of looking at staff, looking at resources that you have in the community, looking at the technology from many sources, and meshing those and changing the rules so you don't have class-size laws," Ms. Gayle said.

For example, she said, schools will be electronically linked to colleges, libraries, museums, and other "institutions that have knowledge to share."

Instead of lengthening the school day or year for all students, officials will require additional time only for those who need it. In addition, she added, teachers will be able to tailor instruction to the needs of a student or a particular subject instead of spending equal amounts of time on all subjects for all students.

"What the technology offers us," she said, "is the opportunity to do an individualized approach."

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