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Cisco Book Points the Way to the Technology That will Influence the Classroom of the Future

January 3, 2005

By Jason Deign, News@Cisco

What will schools be like in 2040? Craig Jones and Kevin Smith, two school-leavers from Glasgow, Scotland, offer this intriguing prospect: "An open school for life, where you learn what you want to learn for a certain period of time, then leave, and it's there your whole life..."

The idea that students might not want to put their schooldays behind them is one of 18 original perspectives, including those of educationalists and politicians, in Connected Schools, a book recently published by the Cisco Systems® Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG).

The book, part of IBSG's Connected Series of thought leadership volumes, which also includes Connected Homes, Connected Health and Connected Cities, comes at a time of growing interest in the use of networking technologies as the basis for radical transformation in education.

As Jones and Smith note in their essay for the book, "even today, school is not really different from the 1920s," which is at odds with young peoples' ability to assimilate and adapt to change and new technology in other areas of their lives.

There are signs that this situation is changing, however, thanks to the ubiquity of information communication technologies (ICT) in other sectors and the increasing value placed on education in knowledge-based societies.

Areas such as corporate training have already been transformed by networked applications and in many countries the laptop is starting to feature, for teachers at least, alongside the textbook in secondary education.

What is evident, though, is that there are unique challenges in applying networking technologies to school education.

Not least of these is the fact that teachers are, in many cases, already stretched for time yet expected to embrace new curricula, trawl the Web for lesson resources and develop Web-based teaching expertise.

To do this requires time and an understanding of the benefits for both teaching and learning, so that these new skills are seen as enrichment rather than as a burden. It also requires teachers to understand the way in which students and society use ICT, and to adapt their teaching.

Modern-day ready-to-use technologies, as simple to operate as a mobile phone, are finally creating an opportunity for change.

And students, certainly, seem ready for it. Jones and Smith point out that "many of the websites teenagers visit demand attention and concentration…; and this is what we do for leisure, to wind down.

"In schools, the opposite is the case: we're not expected to be able to do more than one task at a time and we're consequently being spoon-fed individual pieces that make our time spent there more boring."

The students advocate being given more responsibility for their own education and being given the tools to learn in a more interactive way, absorbing information and learning in a manner more akin to that in which they absorb entertainment, through multimedia channels.

Interestingly, some of these ideas are echoed by another contributor to Connected Schools: no less than François Fillon, French Minister of Education.

Despite the fact that only 20 percent of French teachers currently use multimedia materials, Fillon believes "the school of tomorrow will be a multimedia school, where all pupils will have the same access to resources wherever they live and whatever their socio-economic situation.

"It will be a school that knows how to use new technologies to deliver social integration. Every school will have a web portal where pupils, teachers and teaching staff will have the opportunity to meet and share information."

France is working hard to make sure this vision becomes a reality. The country already has a comprehensive plan for the development of new technologies - PLAN RESO 2007 - covering all ministries. Schools play a critical role in three chapters of the plan.

In addition, the government is committed to providing free public Internet access points and is piloting digital workspaces for pupils, teachers and parents, and a 'digital knowledge space' portal containing rights-free scientific, literary and cultural information.

By 2007, the French government envisages one computer for every 10 school pupils and one computer for every three students in lyceums and colleges. Meanwhile, in 2003 it declared Internet access a public utility and created a scheme to reduce the price of computers.

It is not just public sector bodies such as the French government that are helping drive technology-based change in education, however.

Beyond fostering thought leadership through published material, Cisco is actively engaged in moves to increase technology use in education across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), as well as providing much of the foundation infrastructure for progress.

Michelle Selinger, executive adviser on education for Cisco in EMEA, articulates the company's position on education in her introduction to Connected Schools: "It is now recognized that a complete paradigm shift is necessary in the way that schools operate within society."

"We cannot compromise our children's future by using outdated methods of teaching. We need to take advantage of developments in technology to secure an education that is relevant and responsive to the needs of society as it evolves."

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.

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