BEIJING, July 27 -- From online courses to child-friendly laptops and virtual teachers, technology is spreading in America's classrooms, reducing the need for textbooks, note pads, paper and in some cases even the schools themselves.
Just ask 11-year-old Jemella Chambers. She is one of 650 students who receive an Apple Inc laptop each day at a state-funded school in Boston. From the second row of her classroom, she taps out math assignments on animated education software that she likens to a video game.
"It's comfortable," she said of Scholastic Corp's FASTT Math software in which she and other students compete for high scores by completing mathematical equations. "This makes me learn better. It's like playing a game," she said.
Education experts say her school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston, Massachusetts, offers a glimpse into the future.
It has no textbooks. Students receive laptops at the start of each day, returning them at the end. Teachers and students maintain blogs. Staff and parents chat on instant messaging software. Assignments are submitted through electronic "drop boxes" on the school's Website.
The experiment at Frederick began two years ago at a cost of about US$2 million. Class work is done in Google Inc's free applications like Google Docs, or Apple's iMovie and educational software like FASTT Math.
"Why would we ever buy a book when we can buy a computer? Textbooks are often obsolete before they are even printed," said Debra Socia, principal of the school in Dorchester, a tough district prone to crime.
There is one concession to the past: a library stocked with novels.
"It's a powerful, powerful experience," added Socia. Average attendance climbed to 94 percent from 92 percent; discipline referrals fell 30 percent. And parents are more engaged, she said. "Any family can chat online with teacher and say, 'Hey, we're having this problem.'"
Unlike traditional schools, Frederick's students work at vastly different levels in the same classroom.
The Internet is also a catalyst for change. US enrolment in online classes reached 1 million last year, 22 times the level seen in 2000, according to the North American Council for Online Learning.
That's only the beginning, said Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Massachusetts.
"Our projections show that 50 percent of high school courses will be taught online by 2013. It's about one percent right now."
K12 Inc, which provides online educational services in 17 US states, has seen enrolment rise 57 percent from last year to 41,000 full-time students, said its chief executive Ron Packard.
"We're getting the kids who the local school is not working for. And the spectrum goes from extreme special education to extremely gifted kids."
Virginia-based K12 recently opened an office in Dubai. Packard says he expects strong demand for American education from foreigners who want to enter US universities.
Horn expects demand for teachers to fall and virtual schools to boost achievement in a US education system where only two-thirds of teenagers graduate from high school.
"You deliver education at lower cost, but you will actually improve the amount of time that a teacher can spend with each student because they are no longer delivering one-size-fits-all lesson plans," he said.
(Source: Shanghai Daily)