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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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School of future gets real and hi-tech

Philadelphia, Sept. 8 (Reuters): Philadelphia has 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, all housed in an environment-friendly building.

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 neighbourhood, 95 per cent of the students are black, and about 85 per cent come from low-income households, the school district said.

Philadelphia school district chief executive Paul Vallas told students they would be scrutinised by other schools around the world.

“You have become instant role models,” Vallas said. “People are going to be... watching you.”

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 computers 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Traditional education is obsolete and fails to teach students the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication, which they need to succeed in the 21st century,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 memorising 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.”

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