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Flexibility Said Crucial for Nations' Schools

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Washington--Rapid changes in technology and the increasing interdependence of nations in the world economy will make it imperative that schools in the next century broaden students' general knowledge and skills, speakers at an international forum here said last week.

"It is not possible to forecast economic trends" far in the future, said Louis J. Emmerij, president of the development center of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"It is less possible to forecast occupational structures," he continued. "And it is even less feasible to translate those structures into educational goals."

As a result, he concluded, "we must make the educational system more flexible."

Mr. Emmerij spoke at a forum sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution that examined the outlook for schooling in the 21st century. The meeting was one of seven to be held in conjunction with a Smithsonian exhibit called "Generations."

Future forums in the series will focus on health care, religion, technology, food and energy, and children.

Other panelists at the Nov. 1 meeting here stressed the need to improve educational systems already in place. Robert Leetsma, director of the Education Department's study of Japanese education, suggested that schools in other countries should emulate much of what the Japanese do.

"The Japanese have weaknesses every bit as strong as their strengths, but we can learn from those strengths," he said. For example, he noted, Japanese educators maximize the available learning time in schools and hold high expectations for all their students.

Nyi Nyi, director of the program division of the United Nations Children's Fund, said that schools in the third world must make an effort to serve a greater proportion of their populations, particularly girls. A third of elementary-school-age children in developing countries do not attend school, Mr. Nyi noted, and of those who do, a third drop out before the 4th grade.

Education in such countries should be tied closely to students' everyday life, Mr. Nyi added. "Schooling should not only be learning a few facts, like where Pluto is, but something close to you, like how to treat diarrhea so you don't lose a child," he said.

Societies should also reconsider the role of families in education, argued Maxine Greene, the William F. Russell Professor of the Foundations of Learning at Columbia University's Teachers College.

"The 'family' of the future may be the larger extended community," she said. "We limit ourselves if we think nostalgically of the way we were brought up. I don't think it's going to be that way anymore."


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