Old school tales of trudging five miles through the snow to get to class may give way to accounts of glitchy laptops and faulty interactive whiteboards. A $50 million "School of the Future" backed by Microsoft Corp. opens this September in Philadelphia, and it may redesign ideas about education as thoroughly as technology has changed the workplace.
Microsoft is providing consulting and technology to the new 180,000-square-foot high school, which is being built by the School District of Philadelphia to serve 750 students. Each pupil will get a PC, and teachers will present lessons on interactive whiteboards that are connected to the internet, equipped with speakers and capable of playing DVDs.
Curriculum plans, homework and reports will be available online for parents of enrolled students, who will primarily be drawn from the local inner-city neighborhood. Philadelphia school district CEO Paul Vallas says even home-schooled students may have online access to school resources. Smartcard readers at classroom doors will record attendance, and academic and behavioral progress will also be tracked digitally.
The innovations don't end in the classroom. Microsoft, as part of a five-year commitment to the state, is advising the district on improving bus scheduling, food service, human resources, budgeting and other administrative tasks.
Graduates will have the digital literacy skills employers demand, says Mary Cullinane, Microsoft academic program manager. And the school's emphasis on encouraging students to research and develop their own ideas may create a generation of more innovative entrepreneurs, Cullinane says.
"Entrepreneurs have this passion for inquiring, for figuring out something that others haven't," she says. "We want to get back to that original idea of research, and that will have an impact on employees as well as entrepreneurs."