The School of the Future

When the School of the Future was opened in Philadelphia, in the United States, it attracted considerable media attention as an example of a school-based on collaborative organisational principles. Here is some of what was said.

Philadelphia on Thursday opened a public high school where students work on wireless laptops, teachers eschew traditional subjects for real-world topics and parents can track their child’s work on the Internet.

Called ‘The School of the Future’ and created with help from software giant Microsoft, it is believed to be the first in the world to combine innovative teaching methods with the latest technology … The school, which cost the school district $63 million to build, is free and has no entrance exams. The 170 students in the inaugural ninth-grade class were selected by lottery from 1,500 applicants.

Three-quarters of the students come from the surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood; 95 percent of the students are black, and about 85 percent come from low-income households, the school district said …

Students still sit in classrooms, but lessons rely heavily on information found on the Internet and on interactive software. Students will be allowed to learn at their own pace. Homework is done on computer and sent to the teacher for grading and parents can access the school’s network to read teacher feedback on their child’s progress.

Traditional education is obsolete and fails to teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century, principal Shirley Grover said in an interview.

‘It’s not about memorizing certain algebraic equations and then regurgitating them in a test,’ Grover said. ‘It’s about thinking how math might be used to solve a quality-of-water problem or how it might be used to determine whether or not we are safe in Philadelphia from the avian flu.’

[T]extbooks and blackboards are out, so are paper and pens. There aren’t even books in the library. Everything is done on laptops … And there’s no math or geography class here. It’s all integrated.

‘One half of the period you’re learning math, the other half of the period you’re learning science. But it all comes together,’ said one student.

There are no textbooks to buy: that budget is used to give each kid a laptop to take home …

The ultimate test will be whether technology as tutor will actually help students learn.

‘In those schools where we’ve introduced technology into the classrooms in such a way, the children are better behaved, the attendance is much better and the children are doing better academically’ … Microsoft founder Bill Gates once called traditional high schools ‘obsolete’. This new school may just prove him right.

At the heart of the School of the Future’s mission is the desire to imbed research and development methods into the daily curriculum, so that teachers and students are constantly investigating and discovering new instructional practices that can improve student achievement … The school day itself is project-oriented and based on appointments, where students will use software to schedule classes, meetings, meals and activities, rather than rely on traditional classroom or class time. After school hours will be used for extended learning time for students and the community, with resources, technology and facilities available for broader use.

Microsoft sees the project as a way to give the poor majority of the world’s population an education that is more relevant to the world of work, said Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer.

‘If we want to continue to see the global economy expand, we need to find a way to lift 5 billion people out of their poor environment,’ he said.

Hurdle, Jon. 2006. ‘Philadelphia Opens High-tech School of the Future.’ in Reuters, 7 September.

Assures, Thalia. 2006. ‘Microsoft’s High-Tech High.’ in CBS News, October 7.

Gallard, Fernando. 2006. ‘The School District of Philadelphia Officially Opens the School of the Future and Celebrates the First Day of School.’ inThe School District of Philadelphia.

Hurdle, Jon. 2006. ‘Philadelphia Opens High-tech School of the Future.’ in Reuters, 7 September.