2020: dawn of the 'intelligent' classroom

IT IS exam time in the year 2020 and pupils are feeling tense. Suddenly gentle music starts to play, the corridors fill with a soft blue light and a soothing breeze blows through the classrooms.

In another part of the school, a geography teacher creates a jungle in his classroom, complete with steam, heat and smells. Elsewhere, a history teacher recreates the freezing conditions of the siege of Leningrad.

"Intelligent" school buildings, which respond to pupils' moods, are just one of the predictions made in a report by Futurelab, the Bristol education research centre.

They predict that in 13 years' time, pupils will have 24-hour access to a new kind of wireless network - incorporating the internet, television and telephone - through tiny devices in the fabric of their clothes.

Pupils will be able to look back at lessons at any time via special glasses, which will record their whole lives, creating a reliable "virtual memory".

Hands-free virtual reality computer games will change too, by picking up brain activity through a tiny cap worn by the player.

Virtual environments, such as those already found in the online game Second Life, will allow pupils to have lessons with teachers in other schools or overseas.

Security in schools will change too. Advanced biometric full-body scanning systems, embedded in doorways, could allow pupils and staff access to different rooms without the need for keys, passwords or retinal scans. And the system would refuse access to criminals and excluded pupils.

Keri Facer, the research director at Futurelab, said technology would become so embedded in clothes, everyday objects and schools that it would become harder to see where the child ends and the technology begins.

"There is a huge ethical debate that we need to have now about the potential effects of this surveillance on personal privacy," she said.

"Will we assume it is normal for pupils to be tracked and monitored throughout the day?"

High-tech changes in schools would also pose questions about what pupils should learn in the classroom and how they should be assessed if information recall were to become redundant. The focus on the three Rs could shift, for example, if the written word lost prominence in favour of audio and voice-recognition technologies.

* '2020 and Beyond': www.futurelab.org.ukresearchopening_education.htm


Several of Futurelab's predictions are already coming true: Intelligent buildings

Green End primary in Manchester became the first UK school to install computer-controlled "intelligent lighting" that responds to pupils'


Classroom simulations

A test-bed classroom at Greycourt school in Surrey allows teachers to vary environments using surround-sound and projection screens.

Lessons in virtual worlds

The National Academy of Gifted and Talent Youth and the Open University have set up an educational scheme inside the online game Second Life.

Schome Park lets teenagers attend tutorials and "visit" Hadrian's Wall.

Biometric security

Hundreds of UK schools use fingerprint technology to allow children to check books out of the library or pay for lunches. The Venerable Bede school in Sunderland piloted iris scanning to identify pupils entitled to free school meals, but the scheme was dropped because the device was too slow.

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