Medium term technological change in school education and grasping

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					Medium term technological change in school education and
grasping opportunities for gifted students
by David Farmer, Austega Information Services

Abstract
New information and communications technologies will radically change school education
over the next couple of decades. As well as providing technological projections, this paper
considers the educational benefits and issues that need to be considered in technology
planning at both a school and system level. A key foundation of the paper is that
educational goals should drive the implementation of technology, rather than what might
otherwise be an unplanned reactive approach to technological innovations as they occur.
The paper considers the economic and political pressures that might underscore public
concern on how technology impacts school education, and also the possible hurdles that
need to be overcome. A personal vision for school education in 2020 (or perhaps earlier)
is provided, as is some brief case studies of how this vision might favourably change the
school experience of a small number of gifted students.

Introduction
This paper is concerned with change at the school and systemic level, caused or
facilitated by technology, that will lead to a very different schooling environment – one in
which children, gifted and otherwise, will need to find a “learning home”. It also suggests
that, by concerning ourselves with some of the broad “change” issues now, we have a
better chance of ensuring that future schools are more accommodating to the individual
needs of all students, and not least of those who are gifted.
Clearly a great deal of this is hypothesis and projection. There is little else that is available
given that technologies are changing faster than educational research can track their
usefulness. Be warned. It is almost certain that the technology projections will be flawed
by something that will seem obvious in only a few years’ time. The summation of
educational issues, trends and perceived needs may also be mistaken, and will certainly
be incomplete. But what is important is whether the hypothesised broad trends in
schooling (and society) are undermined by such flaws, and here at least the lag in schools
adoption of new technologies runs in their favour.
This paper comprises six parts as follows:
    technology projections
    educational opportunities and issues
    economic issues
    “Ed2020” - one possible future schooling vision for 2020
    critical hurdles
To emphasise the impact this may have on gifted children, the cases of a small number of
gifted students facing the existing school system are considered with the question of
whether and how my projected schooling system would respond any better to their needs.
This is definitely an evolving work. Feedback is invited as is collaboration with schools and
systems seeking to come to terms with their use of technology.

Technology Projections
The time horizon is one or two decades. Over this time a technological survey/projection
for school education is both easy and impossible. It is impossible because technology’s

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future no doubt has its surprises, but also easy because it appears schools as a whole will
take the order of a decade to adjust fully to the technology that is already available.
The pace of technological change has accelerated to the point that almost any personal
technology currently being explored is likely to be not only commercially available within
ten years but also available cheaply enough for mass “economy of scale” use by students.
The “silicon rule of thumb” over the nineties that the power of a PC doubles every 18
months without any increase in real cost (or the same power is available at half the cost)
is starting to break down - it is being shown to be too conservative. Computing power is
increasing faster and real prices are falling.
Whether this guideline can be readily extended to other technologies, such as wireless
data communications, is of course yet unproven, as is the dependence of this technology
power/cost relationship on a continuation of solid global economic growth. There are also
non-power/cost issues affecting the influence of technology on education - such as the
development of open and accepted standards in hardware, software, communication and
particularly information indexing and storage. Nonetheless in a world of tight school
financing, technology costs may be an appropriate starting point.
Projecting the above 18 month rule of thumb forward gives a cost reduction/power
increase factor of 10 over five years, and 97 over ten years. An internet-connected, voice-
recording (and playing) Pocket PC with standard range of Office applications currently
costs about $1200. Using this rule of thumb the same functionality would cost about $120
in five years and perhaps only $12 in ten. If large demand for such portable computers is
there, then unit cost will not be a barrier.
In addition there are four “soon to be commercially available” technologies that will
probably have significant impact on school education within the next decade or so.
Wireless data communications
At the time of writing this ability to be “connected” to the internet (or local networks)
without wires is being implemented for high-end portable devices. Whilst this seems
currently aimed at the business and "yuppie" markets, it is likely that it will extend its target
markets as costs fall. Communications infrastructure appears to be inherently a capital
investment/ scale industry, and so is likely to support a trend of ongoing cost reduction as
the number of users grows.
It seems reasonable to expect within five years that wireless communication of
educational data flows will not be a cost issue. It may not cope with high bandwidth
communications such as full screen video, but it would allow a school to be networked
without cables. It may also allow a “school” to extend “virtually” well beyond the school
fence to include students working at home or undertaking work experience at local
businesses.
Voice input
The use of voice as a standard form of data input has been much anticipated, and the
development of this technology provides a useful case study of how a sought-after long-
term technology attracts research work and benefits from “directed” hardware and
software developments. The key issue has been the development of voice recognition of
high enough quality to be effective as a standard input device, and the computing power
to support this quality. It appears that adequate quality has been achieved on current
high-end PCs to support reliable individual use.
Extension to educational use is not necessarily straightforward. Use by students as a
recording technology in the current classroom context could be problematic! Nonetheless
as it is embodied in work and community environments it is inevitably going to impact on
the perceived need for keyboard and writing skills. Dictation skills will most likely become


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equally important. A trend back towards “orality” can’t help but have an impact on the
goals and tools of school education.
Artificial intelligence agents
Artificial intelligence agents are computer programs that perform intelligent filtering and
calculation-type tasks for users, a critical modern age requirement to assist with the
sharply increasing amounts of electronic information. Development of quality agents is
skill intensive and this suggests initial use may be restricted. However the minimal costs
of duplication and electronic distribution and the potential scale of using the same agents
across large numbers of users suggests that costs will become minimal at other than the
leading developmental edge.
These agents would appear to be critical in an educational setting, with education services
using the evolving agent technology both to access and also to process relevant
information. Indeed education will need to revise its own goals, as agents are able to
undertake services previously completed by “educated” humans. A simple example of this
is the need for assessment tasks to move beyond the simple compilation of related data –
something that is now fairly efficiently done by a well-used web search engine – to the
evaluation of a student’s skills to put these materials into a perspective where each item is
judged according to its contribution and viewpoint.
Effective indexing and access to electronic educational materials
Early examples of dynamic indexes of educational material/software are already available
(eg http://vtc.ngfl.gov.uk/resource/esr/). There is significant room for further value-add.
As electronic material is increasingly used in classrooms and other learning environments,
it will become important for standards to be established for such material. These
standards would need to address quality of content and delivery, appropriateness to
locally defined syllabus and curriculum standards, and guide both teachers and learners in
their choice of appropriate materials, including questions of learning styles and pace. A
metadata layer needs to evolve to assist users to classify and select materials from the
huge and growing range available.
There is likely to be parallels to the current practice of educational textbooks being
developed in response to curriculum documents authorised by educational authorities.
Developing new electronic courses/material may follow a three-part process:
    scoping of core and peripheral curriculum area/outcomes by a recognised
     educational authority or standards organisation such as the NSW Board of studies
     (peripheral course guidelines being less specific and more open)
    electronic course/material responses from commercial and/or educational enterprises
     (similar to current textbooks – and indeed some “source collection” materials may
     simply be annotated and maintained collections of websites and other original
     material)
    reviews and classification of the electronic course/material by both independent
     reviewers (possibly recorded by the educational authority/standards organisation) to
     allow easy and appropriate use by teachers and students.

Educational opportunities…
There are many educational benefits, many of which have long been recognised, that may
be grasped with the use of new communication technologies. Not surprisingly there are
also some “interesting” issues, with at least one of these able to be construed as a
negative.




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Grasping these educational benefits and addressing these issues has to be the highest
priority. It is essential to focus on educational goals so that these goals can drive change,
rather than let schools and school systems simply react to each technological change as it
occurs with no strategic educational judgment involved.
It is probably impossible to do justice to the educational goals and possibilities of
schooling here. As a partial framework, I will make do by presenting two very different
perspectives on the issues.
The first is my set of five hypothesised goals of school education, from a social policy
viewpoint, viz:
    1. To provide the community with skilled persons able to sustain and increase the
       community's capacity to produce the goods and services we rely on (sometimes
       poorly expressed as "producing the cannon fodder that industry needs").
    2. To provide the community with mature, aware and responsible persons able to
       take their part in guiding the community in its structural decisions and actions to
       ensure the community adapts over time.
    3. To provide the individual person with the flexibility, capacity and skills to sustain
       and adapt their own skills to meet the changing demands of the community (the
       "life-long learner").
    4. To provide the individual person with the basis for a satisfying life.
    5. To achieve the above future-oriented educational goals at an appropriate
       economic cost to the community now.
The second perspective comes from Lesley Sword, a Melbourne psychologist, who was
asked during an OGT electronic conference (www.nswagtc.org.au/ozgifted/ogt.html) for
her description of an ideal school for gifted students1: Most aspects would appear to apply
to all students.
        My Ideal School For The Gifted
        My ideal school for the gifted would be based on a belief in the uniqueness of each
        individual person
        Its aim would be to provide a learning environment that will support each student
        at the level of her/his ability
        Selection procedures would be wide-based and include a student's wish to attend
        An individual education plan would be developed for each student in conjunction
        with the student and parents; there would be regular review of the plans
        K-12 in a continuous structure based on stages with chronological ages mixed
        within the stages
        The buildings would be set in large grounds in a natural environment; rooms would
        be arranged as spokes around common rooms eg library, cafeteria, student
        lounge, gym; each set of rooms would be separate so that students would need to
        walk between them in the open air
        Curriculum to be project driven with no artificial separation of subject areas so that
        individual students are free to explore areas of interest
        Emotions, emotional development and social interaction would be included as a
        curriculum area

1
  Originally posted on 29 May 2000 to the OGT conference on Visual-Spatial Children in response
to questions from participants. Reprinted with Lesley’s permission.


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        Philosophy would be taught at all levels
        School rules to provide structure and predictability, not necessarily routine; to be
        developed in conjunction with students
        Regular breaks to be taken throughout the day; students encouraged to go outside
        A quiet room will be provided where students can go at their request
        Counsellor/s will be on staff and participate actively in school life so that students
        are familiar with him/her; career counselling will be provided
        Interest in teaching gifted students will be part of the selection criteria for teachers
        Parent involvement in the school will be required; parents, teachers and students
        to work as a team
        Curriculum to be based on mastery ie testing at unit end level with credit given for
        unit
        Electives to be available with students allowed to choose their areas of study
        Independent study programs can include work with a person/organisation outside
        the school
        Opportunities to be provided for 1:1 interaction with teachers
        Inclusion of advanced placement/University level classes for which credit will be
        given
        Vocational/career education programs to be included where students can explore
        vocational areas outside the traditional academic ones; work/observation
        experiences to be included eg visit to workplaces
        Instructions, presentations and assessments to include a multi-media approach eg
        written word, oral presentation, audio/video taping, drawings, photographs,
        models, computer presentations, presentations to fellow students/interested others
        Answering this question was a challenge to bring together my ideas and
        experiences into a cohesive whole that, while it was ideal, could also be put into
        practice. My ideas have been influenced by the gifted people, both young and
        older, with whom I work who have shared with me what has and has not worked
        for them. I have also been privileged to spend time at The Roeper School for gifted
        students in Michigan, USA where they put these many of these ideas into practice,
        creating a learning environment that accepts and nurtures each individual.

How can the new information and communication technologies be adopted for educational
benefit?

Individualised delivery and student control
Technology can facilitate individualised learning by delivering interactive learning material
and experiences that are tailored to the particular needs of the student. While some
classroom teachers do stretch themselves to differentiate the learning experiences
according to the needs of their students, there are continuing limitations or barriers to this
being fully successful. These include:
    motivation and time to prepare differentiated materials
    motivation and ability to deliver differentiated materials/experiences simultaneously
    accuracy in identifying individual students’ needs beforehand
    accuracy in identifying individual students’ progress or status in real time.

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Provided that differentiated electronic learning material has been developed (at school,
system or global levels) and is accessible directly by the student, then the first two of
these barriers are largely overcome. And whereas responding to the individual needs of
single students in a class raises a number of economic barriers, this is not necessarily the
case in responding to the thousand students with the same learning profile that are spread
across a school system or state or even wider.
The last two barriers are also largely circumvented if the students have greater control
over their own choice of and pace through the learning materials. This would include
being able to change and maintain learning profiles that capture preferences for particular
learning styles etc.
This individualised flexible progress works well within an outcomes-based assessment
framework. A student finishes a learning module when he or she demonstrates mastery of
it – whether this is via a pre-test, or electronic and face-to-face assessment after
electronic learning, or the same after personally- or remotely- delivered remediation.
Clearly there are many endeavours where an electronic learning mode would be
inappropriate, or at least less appropriate (eg sport or pottery). Some learners may not
thrive on electronic learning materials, as we currently know them, at all. It will be few
years before a computer program provides effective instruction on playing a musical
instrument, and possibly never before one trains an orchestra. There will always be a
balance between electronic and face-to-face learning, albeit one that will continue to
evolve. This is not a barrier to electronic learning – rather a reminder that different parts of
the curriculum will evolve to electronic delivery at different speeds and in different ways.
Similarly although technology may allow individualised learning, there will also be a
balance between learning individually and participating in group-learning activities.
Operating as part of a group and understanding group dynamics remain essential skills.
But this will include the skills of operating in decentralised electronic groups (eg email
discussion lists, collaborative electronic projects) that will be increasingly required in the
workplace and community.

Greater range of more specialised content
Another key advantage of utilising electronic learning materials is the ability to differentiate
content far more than in a conventional classroom. Not only can students progress
through individually delivered electronic materials at their own pace, but they can choose
specialised options or whole peripheral courses that suit their interests and needs. They
can team up with other students and teachers across the much larger “electronic
classroom” to pursue particular interests. Whereas this is not economic or pragmatic in a
traditional classroom, it should be across a system’s learning database – where the
geographically spread thousand students (out of a state’s million) that are interested in
Eastern Europe or marine zoology represent a large enough group to justify prepared
material with its own content experts (even if these are generally only accessed remotely).
Offering students a wider range of content and allowing them to have greater choice over
what they learn will substantially assist students’ general feeling towards school and
school-based learning. Even at the kindergarten level it offers much greater hope to those
gifted children who come to school expecting it be an exciting learning place – and are
asked to practice pre-reading skills that they may have already mastered.

“Real world” exposure and early workplace/tertiary skills
By easily offering a large range of specialised and relatively easily updateable content
options, electronic learning will also allow greater linking and intertwining with “real life”
detail and the acquisition of career/workplace skills. Those interested in the ambulance
service for example can study it and the way it operates as one of their options. Generic

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workplace training provided by employers for various industries could also be cost-
effectively accessible as a school learning option. This could both make schooling more
directly relevant to those seeking post school employment and provide employers with
outcome assessments far more directly relevant to their employee requirements than
those offered by current school leaving credentials.
The same principle applies to tertiary course entrance. There is the potential for some
relevant specialised early tertiary learning to be offered seamlessly as part of schooling.
The assessed outcomes would form part of a more appropriate entrance requirement for a
related tertiary course than the general Universities Admissions Index.

Separating content knowledge and teaching skills
A further key advantage of the technology model is the potential to separate content
expertise and learner guidance into different people. A primary school teacher may still
facilitate coverage of the core curriculum, but would no longer have to be the content
expert on all areas. Students pursuing specialised course options could be linked
electronically to content experts. Their home teacher would be more concerned with being
the architect of the learning environment and ensuring affective aspects assist rather than
hinder learning.
In secondary schools the separation is likely to become even more significant, with the roll
teachers specialising in affective issues and general learning skills, as much as in any
content area. This may be a significant improvement on the current overstretched year
advisor/student welfare/counsellor model that tends to deal with affective/learning
problems after they have emerged rather than pro-actively.

Efficient learning
Although perennially difficult to measure satisfactorily, there appears to be a number of
reasons to think that learning should be more efficiently accomplished:
    specialisation amongst the teaching resources
    greater flexibility in pace for the students reducing both unengaged time for those
     capable of progressing faster and “lost”/low self-esteem time for those not able to
     keep up with a class
    greater flexibility in content choice for students harnessing their underlying interests
     and motivation more effectively
    greater integration with specific real world/workplace skill requirements rather than
     content needing to remain at a general level

Equitably distributed
This is by no means assured and this issue will be revisited further below. But once “best
practice” electronic learning materials are compiled, then their full range can be made
equally available across the country, irrespective of socio-economic status or other
disadvantage of the school (attention to which might otherwise have hindered focus on the
quality of the educational materials). Delivery of learning materials would also be more
independent of the quality of the teachers that are attracted to the school. The potential is
there to facilitate more equitable distribution of a range of educational benefits.

Lifelong learning skills
Electronically accessed learning materials encourage students’ active control of their
learning. Apart from mandatory core material, students choose what they learn, including
researching available options, and then choose the pace, learning material and often the


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precise options that suit them. These are lifelong learning skills that are independent of
the material that is being learnt. It encourages comfort with the idea that “I can identify a
learning need or interest and undertake my own learning in that area”. Both this
confidence and comfort with the electronic learning domain will be critical to 21st century
workplace and its projected continual reskilling needs – and far more important than any
particular set of information content that may be considered relevant now.
This transition could be characterised as “just-in-time” education, rather than the existing
more general “just-in-case” model.

… and educational issues
There are of course a number of interesting issues where the impact of technology is not
so clear, and may even be undesirable.

Safe learning environment?
Schools’ and teachers’ duty of care towards their students, in particular to ensure a safe
learning environment, has been an issue of increasing concern in recent years. This is
even to the point of some volunteer-supported or independent beneficial provisions being
curtailed due to possible “liability”.
Does a decentralised model of learning with students able to participate in different
locations and at different times suggest a safer or less safe learning environment?
Certainly there are some complex issues. What is adequate supervision of a child
engaged in individualised electronic learning? What if their “real life” learning led them to
open electronic or face-to-face communications with “real world” people? What if their
independent learning projects allowed them to explore areas that their family or school
found problematic? What if the school/community centre blurred to the point that adults
from the community were sharing resources with “school students”?
On the other hand it may be possible that increased engagement in individually
appropriate learning and a de-emphasis on structured large group learning will reduce
bullying type behaviours. Or possibly a shift towards a shared learning/teaching
environment, with the potential for teachers to be largely remote content experts, would
allow males to resume active teaching roles with some protection from fear of sexual
abuse claims.
School design issues are clearly also involved, with an open learning environment of
multiple learning stations, and the use of glass walls, more likely to ameliorate concerns
than separate enclosed rooms.

Balance between personal and electronic delivery
A shift towards electronic delivery of learning will seem threatening and dehumanising to
some. Certainly a balance between the two modes needs to be maintained, and
monitored for each child to ensure an optimal mix.
As with TV/video and other technological innovations, it is likely that general judgments
about appropriate “balance” will change over time, particularly as electronic
communications grow more dominant in our work and leisure worlds.
It will also vary in the pace of its acceptance according to subject area. Some curriculum
areas lend themselves to electronic delivery and assessment more than others. Clearly it
will be a gradual shift with an evolving understanding of what can be done excellently in
electronic learning.




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Schooling exit credentials
Greater student control over their learning, and a greater range of core and specialised
content material, does not sit comfortably with a common school exit credential/
examination, such as the HSC examination/ assessment process in NSW. If students are
able to pursue special interests including those that they wish to pursue post-school, it
seems counterproductive to force their last years of schooling back into a relatively
assessment-dominated generalist process.
The argument for some kind of candidature-wide standardised ranking is less pressing
when employers and tertiary institutions can look at outcomes-based assessment in
specifically relevant courses. In general a set of course outcomes/mastery statements
together with course “products” would seem a better schooling exit credential. Or perhaps
schooling credential is a better term as the exit point may well be blurred in the future
when “reskilling” may include returning to school-offered learning.
There would still be mandatory or core material that would also allow cross-candidature
comparisons (although these may be completed by students at different ages), as well as
a means of supporting school accountability. But these would be balanced by a greater
capacity for students to define their own learning to suit their interests and their post-
school intentions.

Parent communications
Electronic technology may also revolutionise parent-school communications, overcoming
for example the perennial problems of notes being lost in the school bag and of teachers
(and parents) never being available to answer phone calls. Providing additional copies of
electronic communications to parents or maintaining a parent-accessible web site would
be relatively costless.
But while the workload of responding to an electronic message is generally less than
responding to a phone call, there are two elements that might cause schools and teachers
some concerns.
The first is that the messages are in writing and can easily be stored and produced at a
later stage. This would make it more important for teachers to be careful in their
comments and commitments – it may in some cases lead to situations where schools
require teacher communications to be oversighted by a senior staff member before they
are released.
Secondly the relative ease of electronic communications may well engender a sharp
increase in communications to and from parents, and this may consume staff time.
Greater parent contact and involvement may, on the other hand, have positive educational
effects. It will take some time to evaluate whether extra parent involvement/staff time
utilised is productive in terms of the school’s goals.

School structure and organisation
Greater student control of their learning and the blurring of the distinctions between
traditional school and workplace/real world learning will have substantial impact on school
structures and organisation. The electronic delivery of learning content will remove much
of the timetabling difficulties currently experienced by schools by allowing students to
progress individually or in small groups at times that suit them. Many school
administration tasks and a portion of the teacher overview of student learning progress
can also be undertaken electronically – again making school organisation more flexible.
Allowing students to explore their interests relatively openly beyond a mandatory core
curriculum suggests synergy with community learning centres and public libraries. More
efficient use of technology and real estate would also be likely than with the current

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separation between the two. Achieving a cooperative and pragmatic merging of the two –
currently under the controls of different levels of government – may nonetheless require
facilitation by financial incentives as part of a national or statewide program.
At least at initial appraisal, the integration of high school with adult learning centre, public
library and community centre facilities would send a very positive message to the
community about continuous learning and to the school about being an essential part of
the community (rather than a rather artificial structure on its own).
An issue that might arise from this blurring of the school boundary would be the ability to
include a number of “after-school activities” type options within the range of school
learning opportunities. From an educational viewpoint this appears to have many benefits,
but it does present an economic and equity problem. Will a public schooling system offer
opportunities freely that some parents have traditionally paid for? Unlikely. On the other
hand the inclusion within the “new school day” of parent-funded educational
supplementary activities would highlight the inequity in educational benefits. Perhaps the
best that might be achieved would be a range of public assistance for those students in
need.

Coping with the “digital divide”
This is an area of major concern. An, as yet, poorly defined division is emerging between
those who are comfortable using information and communication technologies (ICT) and
those who are not. Among students this division appears to be largely based on the
information experience and skills found in their home environment. The ICT exposure
schools provide has so far generally proved secondary and relatively insignificant. The
Virtual School for the Gifted, an electronic initiative providing special interest extension to
gifted children, reports for instance that “nearly all our students are the children of highly
computer literate parents, many in the industry”2.
Given the rapid growth in ICT-based employment and wealth, with most new jobs and
many existing work roles being redefined by the ability to access and use electronic
information, this “digital divide” should be of major social concern.
In some countries, principally the United States, recognition of this issue has led to
significant government programs to redress the imbalance, chiefly through the education
system. Although largely measured at present in terms of internet connections and
networked PCs, the programs are also gradually focusing on how education practices can
also be transformed. For example both Florida and Kansas are using electronic
communications to deliver courses to schools where the number of interested students
would not be sufficient to justify offering the course at the school in a traditional classroom
mode.
In Australia the schools that have led the move towards positive adoption of technology
have largely done so because of the drive and vision of particular staff members. Given
the marketing focus of many private schools, it is not surprising that many “innovative”
programs have been found in that sector – though sometimes the reality is less evident
than the marketing image. To the extent that these initiatives are effective, they tend to
exacerbate the “digital divide”.
Only with a commitment from the public education sector, including a government
commitment to educational outcomes utilising technology rather than simply to a trickle-
feed of new hardware, will addressing the “digital divide” be possible. While there is not
yet the same public focus on this issue in Australia as in the United States, this would
appear to be simply a matter of time.

2
    Personal email from the principal, Lynne Kelly, 29 June 2000.


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It is gradually being accepted as a priority for Australia’s federal government to equip
Australia’s young with ICT skills in order to compete internationally. It will surely not be too
much further till the equity gap between the power and opportunities of the “information-
rich” over the “information-poor” is widely recognised.
At that point we would expect stronger political commitments and statements, and
federally funded programs to explicitly address the “digital divide”, not only in terms of PCs
in schools, but also in terms of increasing the technological comfort of “information-poor”
groups and communities. Following the example of the United States and the United
Kingdom this would include community technology centres with access and training to the
local community and in particular to disadvantaged groups such as the unemployed.
Given their place in our community, public schools and the poorer private schools will
need to be at the forefront of delivery on this initiative.

Economic realities
Visions can just “hang there” unrealised unless there is some political or economic
imperative driving reality towards them. Are there any indications suggesting that such
drivers may exist?

Lagging workplace technologies
Schools in general appear to be a decade or more behind the evolving Australian
workplace. Businesses have largely completed an “electronification” of their work
environments and the initial training of their staff. They will suffer additional ongoing
training costs if their new employees are not familiar with an ICT environment and will
become increasingly demanding both of potential employees and of the schooling system
that educates them. I would expect demand from employers/tertiary educators to become
strident over the next decade if schools do not provide students with literacy skills suitable
for an ICT world.

“Just-in-time” staffing
The expectation of employment for life by both businesses and employees has almost
completely disappeared. Businesses now generally look for a short-term matching of
employment needs. Outsourcing and the use of contract and temporary staff are all signs
of a shift towards short-term employment for specific tasks. Importantly, employment for
specific tasks allows employers to favour those who already have the specific skills
required rather than commit to providing new employees with long-term on-the-job
training.
Schools that provide students with relevant specific workplace training will match this
business trend and provide their students with advantage. Moreover schools, colleges and
community learning centres will need to continue to provide opportunities for workers to
reskill separately to employer-provided workplace training.

ICT skills a national issue/priority
As part of working out its economic destiny, Australia is faced with the declining
importance of resources (as a proportion of global value creation), the lack of economies
of scale for its manufacturing sector, and a relatively highly educated workforce.
Harnessing the global market scale of the new ICT-based industries seems to be an
obvious national economic strategy. Part of such a strategy would appear to be ensuring
that our school systems and adult learning centres are efficient in nurturing ICT skills and
a comfort level in using them.



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As ICT skills are increasingly linked to highly paid employment and wealth creation, the
“digital divide” will also become a national social equity issue. In this eventuality, the
emphasis on improving the ICT skills of our young is likely to be activated largely through
schooling (especially public schooling) and community based technology centres.

Funding for school education
A poor indicator for school education has been the lack of widespread debate about public
funding levels for school education in recent decades. Its apparent demise as a political
issue is in keeping with the trend in the last two decades towards smaller government and
is also perhaps in line with the lower proportion of voters immediately concerned with
raising school-aged children.
In contrast is the growing number of child-raising families that are committing to the extra
expense of private education in an apparent attempt to give their children a “good” (or
possibly a “better”) education. Indeed with greater choice of schools offered even within
the public education system (at least in NSW), it would appear that interest in school
education amongst those households with children has increased.
In any event, the national competitive aspects, the demands from employers for
immediately employable workers, and concerns for the “digital divide” are likely to see
school education funding become a more pressing political issue, with increased funding a
result.

School economics
Economic realities are equally critical at the individual school level and may not be as they
first seem. Technology has been seen as almost solely a question of additional expense,
rather than as having both a fundamental educational and economic impact on schools.
Currently approximately 70-80% of a school’s economic expenses appear to be staff-
related, and staff-student ratios are fundamental to the planning and economic viability of
particular programs and courses, as well as of a school as a whole.
Although a fundamental issue, it may be too early to generalise about the impact of
electronic delivery of learning materials on staff/student ratios or the economic viability of
courses and schools, but a number of aspects can be suggested:
    The ability for any number of students across a system to access the same “best
     practice” learning materials rather than have thousands of teachers duplicate the
     delivery effort should be able to support either staff savings or a redirection of
     teachers’ skills to more individualised attention to students’ needs.
    The ability for students with specific learning needs or profiles to access tailored
     learning materials would both reduce teacher time taken to individually differentiate
     their teaching and also make it more likely that the student learning is effective.
    The greater specialisation options available to teachers would suggest a higher level
     of overall productivity.
    The use of ICT to both update course learning materials and to communicate with the
     relevant content experts is likely to be more cost effective and responsive than
     retraining a larger number of face-to-face teacher and revising printed textbooks.
    The relaxation of tight timetabling constraints and difficulties is likely to liberate senior
     management time and enable innovative programs to be trialled more easily.
    The ability to shift the vast majority of communications from paper to electronic
     means (including completing and validating the multitude of forms) would save far



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     more than forests – it would save significant teacher and administration staff time and
     allow greater integration of different management systems.
The possible cloud on the economic horizon is the dependence, at least in the short term,
on a small cell of technology facilitators – skilled technical staff that enable these
opportunities to be realised. From a risk management viewpoint it would be important to
have surplus capacity in this area. To facilitate change, these staff also need to be
comfortable seeing technology from the perspective of a “learning environment architect”.
While technology’s leading edge will most likely continue to be beyond most educators’
comfort levels, the extension of common hardware and software standards should reduce
difficulties and inconsistencies that understandably tend to give some teachers a degree
of technology phobia.

Ed2020 Vision
My personal “vision” for schools in 2020 includes the following aspects:
    Primary schools are combined with local community facilities and are, as physical
     sites, open morning, afternoon and evening. While “school” hours may generally
     cover similar hours to at present, there is no sharp boundary between school and a
     wide range of “after school” activities. Arrangements for extended supervision
     (perhaps with payment) can be flexible within say 7.30am through to 6pm.
    Secondary schools are combined with the community library and adult learning
     facilities, and also offer TAFE and university access. School hours are similarly
     flexible to above.
    Physically schools include more glass-walled meeting rooms and less classrooms,
     and an open plan range of individual “hot” working areas (with each student perhaps
     having his or her own mobile storage unit with drawer and filing cabinet drawers). In
     high schools these meeting rooms and working areas might be booked by other than
     school students.
    Regular face-to-face time with “roll class” teachers both in a group and one-on-one
     provides a general school interface and provides the avenue for affective needs to be
     addressed and for general learning skills to be nurtured and progress monitored. This
     might typically represent 20% of a student’s school time. A student’s first experience
     at a school should be a session with his or her roll class teacher and parent rather
     than a potentially daunting whole class experience.
    Approximately 40% of a student’s school time is spent in core material – perhaps a
     greater percentage in early years of primary school for most children. In primary
     school the content expert would often but not always be the same as the student’s
     roll class teacher. In high school core course material is largely delivered
     electronically with local (or remote if necessary) subject teachers providing
     supervision and guiding the student’s interaction with other students. Progress
     through the material is at the student’s own pace and can be influenced by a
     customisable learning profile that reflects the student’s learning style and any
     learning disability/particular need.
    The remaining 40% of the student’s time would be spent on individual courses
     selected by the student. This would generally be chosen from the range of materials
     offered by the educational system and may come with remote teacher content
     experts providing the supervision and guiding the student’s interaction with other
     students (who might also be remote). Interaction here would be largely electronic, but
     with occasional face-to-face meetings as appropriate to the subject area and the
     needs of the students. These courses could include a range of activities currently
     undertaken as after-school activities. Importantly to allow for unique learning interests

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     and needs, there would also be provision for one-off individual projects with their own
     defined “products” and suitable expert/mentor. Some of these after-school type
     activities and unique projects might require some parent funding, but means-tested
     assistance would be available.
    As well as standardised outcome assessments in the core course material – which
     would be undertaken at the student’s own pace – the student would also accumulate
     a set of outcome or mastery statements about the particular courses they have
     selected. A portfolio of “products” would also accompany this, particularly from any
     one-off individual learning choices. This would replace the emphasis on current
     school leaving credentials such as the HSC. There would be no set school leaving
     age or time of year, although a regular term cycle would still probably apply for
     administrative ease.

Critical Path Hurdles
There are a number of economic and political drivers encouraging change in these
directions.
But there are also certainly a number of hurdles along the critical path to this vision:
    Teachers and their union representation are obviously going to be concerned with
     the status, role and working conditions of teachers in this changing school
     environment. While there may be many benefits to teachers, including the ability to
     specialise, the amount of change is significant and rapid change breeds resistance.
     One danger is that negotiations on working conditions may dictate the way that
     technology is introduced or used to the detriment of educational benefits that might
     otherwise be delivered.
    Governments have in recent decades been increasingly focused on cost control and
     “business management” principles. The danger is that technology is evaluated and
     introduced solely on cost reduction grounds with the government more keen to
     harvest staff savings rather than educational benefits to students (and of course to
     the community in the medium term).
    Changes to school structures and merging with community libraries and learning
     centres will cause consternation amongst the staff and authorities involved. A
     common vision will be needed to bring the various people together. Quite possibly
     the process will need to be facilitated by financial incentives from Federal and State
     governments.
    Recognition of the need to address the “digital divide” on both national economic and
     social equity grounds will be required to harness both the public attention and
     government funds.
    Possibly of greatest importance is the recognition that educational benefits and
     issues are primarily at stake.

Case Studies
Education is an individual matter, as well as a concern of social policy. Each child brings
his or her own needs, background factors and hopes.
Consequently case studies at best are illustrative rather than able to support generalised
conclusions. Nonetheless this limited aim may be useful and indeed appropriate given the
hypothetical projections included in my Ed2020 “vision”.
I have endeavoured to approach these case studies in the following ways:



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1. I have chosen gifted students who are either at their final stages of schooling or who
have left school in the past decade – all names have been changed.
2. I have taken my knowledge of their time at school (in those cases where I have this
information) and considered what I think would have been the different outcome if they
had experienced the schooling of my Ed2020 vision.
3. I have also asked the case study subjects to consider my description of Ed2020
schooling and consider how they think their experience and valuation of schooling might
have been different.

“Alan”
Alan is profoundly gifted and is now working successfully. He had an awful high school
experience, describing himself as severely bullied, including physically, and this almost
causing him to commit suicide. It appears as if ostracism by his fellow students,
experienced in an alienating school environment, caused him to retreat into what he
describes as an archetypal nerd stereotype, despite some regular athletic success in
primary school.
Most interesting is his experience in starting new classes and schools. He would start full
of enthusiasm and blitz all the intellectual challenges and tasks. But soon he would find
that the teachers would bypass him to make sure other students were able to participate.
Alan, with his self-esteem heavily dependent on what he perceived as his one strength,
was angry when his intellectual abilities were not continually recognised. He
acknowledges now the need for the teacher to encourage other class members, but
nonetheless stresses how important recognition was for him in his alienated high school
experience.
A hybrid Ed2020 schooling environment, with solid portions of time allowing individual
progression through material and also some individual choice of learning areas would
have allowed Alan to pursue his intellectual interests without having to compete with other
“local” students for a teacher’s attention and approval. Rather the electronic peer
interaction in his learning would have been at a more compatible intellectual level and
based on shared interests.
Moreover the time devoted to dedicated group and learning skills would have been able to
concentrate directly on group dynamics and skills – areas that both Alan and his
classmates appear to have needed – without being compromised by the overtones of
competition in school performance. This separation of the affective and intellectual needs
would seem to have been an essential requirement for Alan, a student whose intellectual
needs marked him clearly as different from his age peers.
Alan’s own comments:
I think these suggestions sound excellent. I definitely feel that such measures would have
had a positive effect on my time at school.
The primary reason - far more freedom to learn at my own pace, and at my own rate, and
where my interests took me. I found myself often held back by structures erected to try
and make teaching of large groups easier on the teacher. I can understand why but in
many cases, the structures simply meant I learned nothing - because I was already
beyond them. With the Ed2020 idea, I can see that, while 40% of learning is in core areas,
so the basics that must be covered can still be covered, there's also a real allowance for
the student to learn at their own pace in that 40% of time allocated for student selected
courses, and to learn what they are interested in. In my own ideal world, I would like to
see more than 40% available for this in the case of some students - those who, very
easily, master the core curriculum - but 40% is far better than nothing and I suspect the
reality is that some standards will not always be everything they could be in the ideal

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world. A substantial improvement, even one that is not perfect, is much better than
nothing.
I do wonder though - these 40% of course time "spent on individual courses selected by
the student." - is that always going to be appropriate. I do think in some cases, teachers,
parents, etc, would be well advised to intervene and ensure a student makes decision that
are the most beneficial. Sometimes, speaking for myself, as a child, I didn't always make
the wisest decisions on my education, and in some cases, I do think adults around a child
can make better decisions - perhaps decisions based on the child’s long term happiness
rather than what they want right now. I think there would need to be significant access to
advice on making these choices – and possibly parameters that limited choices. Ideally,
these would not need to be used often - but educational decisions taken quite young can
have long-term impacts. If the system is flexible enough, maybe this isn't a concern - but if
a child wants to be a geneticist, it needs to be ensured that they don't drop biology early,
simply because literature looks more attractive in the short term.

“Ben”
Ben is still of school age. After finding the traditional school setting unsatisfactory, he has
been using a combination of traditional home schooling and online learning in recent
years and is well ahead academically of his chronological age. It has worked well for
several years but currently he is feeling unmotivated.
According to his mother:
Now he seems to need to have peers and real life teachers/mentors other than parents.
He attended a seminar day for Year 11 English Literature this term and loved it. There
were only 9 students who were studious and well behaved and 2 teachers. They viewed
the film, discussed in small groups and received excellent handout notes. Afterwards Ben
said, "There, that's the sort of school I want to attend”.
Using a version of the adult education model with its reliance on individual self-motivation
and disciplined approach to study raises significant questions for use with children, even
with gifted children where the thirst for learning may be strongest. The Ed2020 hybrid
model meets this challenge by its strong foundation of a “roll teacher” concerned with
each child’s affective needs, and with finding the best ways to facilitate the child’s learning
interests. Moreover the model provides for group work with peers at a similar level in each
learning area. The use of electronic interaction avoids many of the timetabling concerns
that would preclude such flexibility in the traditional school. Nonetheless it is clear that
face-to-face contact remains a fundamental need for many if not all students. This
suggests that occasional gatherings of students involved in even the most specialised
interest areas should be part of the standard learning template.

“Sarah”
Sarah is a gifted student in junior high school. She is gregarious and in primary school
evidenced some signs of underachieving to fit in with her classmates. She has also
showed some signs of an auditory sequencing deficit learning disability, which suggests
that a lively classroom environment is difficult for her. She has many outside interests,
such as music, tournament of minds, astronomy, animals and drama.
The Ed2020 model would appear to provide Sarah with an inconspicuous way of pursuing
her interests at whatever depth she wishes without jeopardising her social network. It
would also allow her to see some of her special interests as included in “schooling” with
positive effects on her attitude to school generally.
Sarah raised a number of interesting aspects:



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It would be a great advantage to be able to move quickly through some of the core areas,
like comprehension, and to be able to choose special interest learning areas. It might be
still a problem, though, sharing with friends if you were moving through the core areas
faster, or slower, than them.
The teacher would be able to differentiate between those who like and dislike a subject –
that would be good.
You would be able to target particular jobs and then find out and pursue the skills that are
required for them. You would get more freedom to choose what you want to learn.
You might make fewer friendships with electronic learning for some of the more unusual
special interests. You would need organised “chat rooms” and face-to-face meetings, say
a couple of times a term, to help electronic friendships to grow. In astronomy this could be
a viewing night.
You couldn’t do music in an open classroom – you would need soundproofed areas like
you have now for individual lessons.
You would need to get rid of the “I am in Year3” type labels, and that would be very
positive. There would need to be a flowing through from primary to high school learning.

“David”
David is in his last stages of a traditional school, and is about 2-3 years younger than
most of his peers in his classes. He currently travels 50 minutes each way to school and
most of his days start at 7.30am and finish at 4.30pm with additional HSC type classes.
He has strong interests in computers (including computer games), books, ancient history,
singing and the performing arts. He has a small group of close friends and has been
socially more comfortable and successful since his accelerations than before.
His accelerations during primary school were largely required to give him an educational
environment that kept his interest in learning alive. It was partly successful, but he
became an underachiever in high school, probably reflecting low self-esteem in that
setting. He is now showing an interest in achieving longer-term goals, but remains
relatively uninterested in or lacking in confidence about academic competitive success.
The Ed2020 model’s freedom to pursue learning at an individual pace and to choose
some learning areas would have given David the opportunity to retain his love of learning
with less pressure for formal acceleration. On balance a formal acceleration in roll grade
would probably still have been required as his interests and maturity have tended, at least
in part, to reflect those of students learning at the same levels.
David’s comments:
I would not be interested in longer school hours, unless there was flexibility to not be there
for all the time the school was open.
I like the wider variety of specialised learning areas. This would have made my time at
school much better.
I also like the idea of progressing through the core material at my own pace. This would
have been easier that changing classes through acceleration. Though I think I would still
have wanted to change my “roll class” as my friends come from those learning at the
higher levels.
It would be good to be able to learn more specifically about the areas I want to work in –
including writing computer games.




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Further Reading
There is an increasing range of electronic sources covering educational technology
developments. These include a range of ezines and reference web sites that cover the
many new developments. A range of these sources can be found at
http://www.austega.com/ed2020/.


David Farmer works in banking and risk management and in effective information design,
as well as strategic technology planning for schools. This is a slightly edited version of the
paper he presented to the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and
Talented Eighth National Conference in Brisbane, 2-5 July 2000.




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