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Science Group To Aid Rural Areas

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The Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education, a group linking schools with business concerns and scholarly groups, has decided to focus its attention on an area not currently high on the national reform agenda: rural schools.

"A significant proportion of our precollege students and teachers live in rural areas, isolated from the wealth of science, mathematics, and technology resources found in more populated areas," the coalition's director, John M. Fowler, said at a meeting held recently at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wis.

"This leads to inequality of oppor4tunity," he said, "and adds to the growing problem of a dwindling talent pool of scientists and engineers."

The problem is particularly "punishing" for rural students, Mr. Fowler said, since "the need for farm workers is decreasing, and rural youth are being forced to look at new, non-farm options."

Participants at the meeting noted that textbooks tend to be written for suburban populations and that rural science teachers, while trained in one discipline, often are required to teach several other subjects in which they have not been trained.

In addition, they said, rural teach8ers frequently are underrepresented in federal and state preservice and inservice programs, as well as in proposals to reform teacher education.

To help ameliorate these problems, the coalition has agreed to foster linkages between schools and electric cooperatives and agribusinesses.

Paul Natchigal, director of the rural-education program for the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory in Aurora, Colo., said that such alliances would also enhance community development, since schools are a vital component of the economy in non-industrial areas. Schools in rural areas are often the biggest revenue producers and the largest employers, he noted.

One example of the type of assistance businesses can provide came from Smith Holt, dean of arts and sciences at Oklahoma State University. Telephone utilities, he suggested, could help develop long-distance-learning techniques. Oklahoma State has already developed one such project, known as the Learning by Satellite Project.

Coalition officials also proposed holding regional meetings to devise a framework for developing new K-12 science curricula appropriate for rural students. Small schools may be "more fertile territory" than urban and suburban schools for implementing curricular change, officials maintained.--rr

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