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Earth Notes

Digital Schools

By Howard Fischer

Phoenix, AZ – The idea is to create a digital curriculum -- a way of
teaching that could be conducted electronically. Senate
President Ken Bennett said that the current system of
education which dates to the 19th century may no longer
make sense.

(I'm just trying to lay the foundation for the better
use of technology so that education can be taken to
children rather than gathering children in one place to
give them an education.)

He said one problem with that system is youngsters have
to be brought together to all learn at the same pace.
But more individualized instruction would let students
proceed at their own rate, regardless of how quickly
their classmates learn. Bennett also said there are
other situations where it's not logical to have every
child make the daily trek to school. For example, he
said, a youngster may live 30 miles out of town and not
want to spent an hour and a half each day on the bus.
Then there is the financial consideration. Bennett said
there are about a million youngsters in Arizona public
schools, a figure that grows by more than 30,000 each
year. He said even having perhaps just 10,000 students
opt for an e-learning program would make a real
difference in costs to taxpayers.

(If you didn't have 10,000 kids sitting in school
chairs, that's 10 or 15 schools, at $25 million each
that you would not have to build. And if you could save
$250 million by not having to construct that many
schools and put all or a portion of that savings into
the per pupil funding for students or added technology
or whatever that might be I think we could have huge

Not everyone was convinced the plan would be good for
children. Sen. Marsha Arzberger questioned whether it
is in the best interests of students to get their
academics at home and spend less time interacting
personally with teachers and other students.

(I heard this statement that we wouldn't have to build
as many schools. Well, OK. If we put them in cubicles I
guess you wouldn't have to. A teacher -- a live teacher
-- to a student is a friend, guidance. A teacher
listens to the children, teaches order and discipline,
prepares a child to live in society.)

Bennett said that might be true if e-education replaced
all classroom experience and a child never inacted with
another. But he envisions a system where this kind of
learning replaces only a portion of each student's

(Maybe instead of coming to school every morning at
7:30 and going home every afternoon at 3 that you could
stagger that. And kids could come to school two, three
afternoons a week if they were getting most of their
academics by e-learning in the morning they could come
in the afternoon for clubs and band and theater, drama
and whatever.)

Bennett said the system could have another benefit. If
kids learn at their own pace perhaps they could
complete what normally takes 12 years in school in as
little as 10. And that would not only save the state
money in aid to schools but also allow these youngsters
to actually start their college courses early. The
measure was approved Tuesday by the Senate
Appropriations Committee. In Phoenix, for Arizona
Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.