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Published in Print: October 1, 1998, as Future Shock

Future Shock

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Imagine that you have been given unlimited freedom and funds to design the school of the future. Such visionary thinking is hard-educators tend to be incrementalists, not Utopians-but the new millennium will demand such idealistic dreaming if schools are to fulfill their mission in the modern age.

Is there, after all, any remaining justification for the compartmentalized, nine-month lecture system?

Is there, after all, any remaining justification for the compartmentalized, nine-month lecture system, a system confined to a warren of classrooms, available only to K-12 students, and built on a decades-old curriculum? This holdover from an agrarian, nontechnological society is no more relevant to today's learning than bloodletting or leeching is to modern medicine.

In the future, I see education utilizing technology, embracing all of society, and aiming toward genuine lifelong learning for everyone. School systems will become smaller, more diverse and technological, and much more student-focused. Schools themselves will become part of a network of learning centers that will include libraries, community centers, shopping malls-in short, any convenient place that has good lighting, up-to-date technology, and ample parking.

Because students will often work independently online, school buildings will be built for maximum utility and flexibility, with modern lightweight (probably modular) construction and sophisticated, factory-installed technology. Classrooms will be constructed so they can easily be converted to labs, auditoriums, and media or conference centers. Schools won't need classic or expensive architectural design for design's sake, nor expansive rolling grounds. Structures will be simple, immaculate, high-tech hubs staffed by information specialists, facilitators, technology and programming experts-and a new breed of savvy and versatile teacher/trainers.

Year-round classes will run from early morning to late at night. Traditional classrooms will give way to space that can be adapted for preschoolers, seniors, displaced homemakers, executives, downsized workers, and dropouts. Trained teachers will establish long-range, individualized study plans for students and then integrate appropriate technologies and strategies for maximum learning.

Much of the traditional bureaucracy will become unnecessary and irrelevant. Administrators will assume new, more-limited roles as planners and facilitators, organizers and schedulers, and personnel and accountability experts. Most education decisions will be made locally by small groups of specialists in curriculum, certification, facilities, and the like who are responsible to the larger education community. Teachers' unions, tenure, and longevity provisions will wither away. Educators will grow and change in advance of their students, and careerlong development will be essential for teachers, as will flexibility and familiarity with technology.

Instruction won't be developed according to chronological age or perceived intelligence but according to each child's carefully assessed developmental stage, interest, learning style, and ability. Students will spend time online exploring, researching, and interacting with teachers, classmates, or people around the world-attending Russian classes in Russia or incorporating onsite field trips in Montana or Chile with geology classes. Experiential learning and "life experiences" (including community service and volunteerism) will be required.

Virtual-reality technologies will be used universally, as will interactive distance learning. Schools, homes, libraries, and learning centers will be connected by fiber optics or satellites (or both), and teachers will routinely work directly with individual students and parents online or in face-to-face video encounters. Eventually communication technologies-some worn on the body-will become wireless, thus eliminating the need for cable, wiring, electricity, modems, batteries, and cumbersome equipment. Such tools will become more necessary than today's cars, but they will also be accessible, affordable, and available to everyone. Rural isolated areas, crumbling inner cities, and Third World countries will be empowered by these new technologies.

Driven by self-interest, businesses and other groups will supplement school budgets.

Driven by self-interest, businesses and other groups will supplement school budgets. By constantly upgrading the school system and by specifying the new skills, equipment, research, and product-development activities it needs, industry will establish a feeder system of tailor-made employees. The potential sterility of a workplace-driven curriculum will trigger a backlash and a re-emphasis on the humanities, leading to a richer, more rigorous, balanced education. Multiple languages will be taught from preschool on, and curricula will reflect students' growing need for global knowledge and awareness.

Because of the potentially isolating effects of technology, greater efforts will be made to address students' socialization. Educators will focus on children's needs (including lifelong health care) that can't be met via the Internet. Athletics, clubs, and music and drama groups will flourish.

Education will become a true partnership, a collaboration among community leaders, business, government, parents, teachers, and students. Communities will be committed to developing an educated and technologically skilled citizenry. Excellence in teaching will be honored as never before, with teachers acknowledged as the life force, coordinators, and true keepers of the flame.

Vol. 10, Issue 2, Page 54

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