November 25, 2006

Schools may end up being cyber
By LANE NICHOLS - The Dominion Post | Thursday, 12 October 2006

Classrooms of the future will have computers in place of books and children logging on from home PCs for interactive lessons with overseas pupils.

Teachers will no longer be the main information source, acting more as facilitators who guide pupils between electronic information "portals".

This is how New Zealand's education system could look in 20 years, according to the first major report by a multimillion-dollar Government think tank.

But teachers are warning against letting children study at home without supervision or social interaction with their peers.

The Secondary Futures project was set up in 2003 to investigate how secondary schooling could cater for society's rapidly changing needs.

Today it releases the first of five reports outlining scenarios in which computers have replaced books, pupils are enrolled at several schools at once and learn at different sites.

Secondary Futures sought feedback through hundreds of workshops and analysed nearly 4000 submissions. The Students First report criticises the old "production line" schooling model – which sorts people according to job prospects – saying it has resulted in serious underachievement, particularly for Maori and Pacific Islanders.

It champions personalised learning, whereby teachers and pupils work collaboratively to build individually tailored learning programmes around a pupil's interests.

It questions the traditional school-day structure, suggests aligning social and health services more closely with schools and predicts a changing role for teachers.

Pupils will be "bombarded with information" from multiple sources. Teachers will assist them to filter relevant data from cyber trash.

"Face-to-face teaching will be complemented or sometimes even replaced, by online learning, e-learning, television learning and hands-on learning," the report says.

Pupils will not only learn in classrooms, but from home through online learning programmes and independent education providers.

But the report warns the transformation would require major attitudinal shifts that could clash with traditional notions of competition between schools and zoning provisions.

Secondary Futures chief executive Nicola Meek said many ideas outlined in the report were already happening in pockets around the country.

The report was a "mark in the sand" to get people thinking about the future of education.

"This won't be a one size fits all. These are some possibilities that might demonstrate how learning might occur."

Post Primary Teachers Association deputy general secretary Bronwyn Cross warned that personalised learning took decisions on what should be taught away from society and gave it to teenagers.

She questioned the wisdom of leaving pupils alone at home to study, which raised "care issues" and meant young people would miss out on important social interaction.

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