What Will We Recall in Our Euphoria?


Education in the future will be influenced by factors external to it, more than was the case during the 20th century.

First of all, technology will permit education to take place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It will make possible a genuine individualization of learning. It will create more of a balance between individual teaching and the group classroom experience. Tests will be designed, for the first time, not only to record and measure what students do and do not know, the test takers will also be able to find out immediately what and why they got something wrong. We've only begun to see the extent of the potential that technology holds for learning.

Second, the life span of individuals and the rate of development will force us to reconsider the patterns of schooling. Schooling will begin earlier and, as a uniform experience, will end earlier. At the same time, individuals will pursue education and training for longer periods in their lives in ways specific to their own needs. In a life span of 100 years, individuals will return to formal schooling twice or three times in their lives.

Last but not least, the substance and standards of schooling will begin to transcend not only local districts but nations. International expectations will govern, particularly in the area of science. The importance of reading and writing will not diminish but only increase.

And in the next century, the arts--the training of the eye, the ear and the hand--will be accepted as central components in the education of our citizens. It is likely that the way government provides the resources to the structures of schooling and education will undergo rapid change. We may not have a need for as many local and state authorities, and public education may offer more variety in terms of the ways in which individuals exercise their right to education, a universal obligation of government to provide.

But all the changes that might come about in education will not result in more learning if we do not recruit, train and keep the best of our young people in teaching as a profession.

Since futurology is not an exact science, predictions inevitably mirror concerns with the present. No scheme for reform or change will work without the human resources. These resources require that the most talented and idealistic of our young people in college consider education as a desirable and honored profession. Teachers have to be well-compensated, treated with respect and provided with the time and incentives necessary to inspire in their pupils a genuine love of learning and a taste for excellence.

One danger surrounds our euphoria about technology: The more we are able to store and retrieve information, the less we are inclined to remember anything. The Xerox machine and the Internet ought not result in the weakening of our memories and our capacity to retain, interpret and use information and ideas.

In the end, in the next century, active learning will require the same amount of concentration, attention and desire to ask questions that it does today.

Leon Botstein is president of Bard College, Annandale Road, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504. He also is music director of the American Symphony Orchestra. This article is reprinted with permission from the Poughkeepsie Journal.