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Australian Secondary Principals' Association annual conference discusses dramatic changes to schools in the coming decade

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: The next decade will see Australian schools facing dramatic changes according to the Australian Secondary Principals' Association. Most children will be taught at home using computer technology, and the traditional classroom will be a thing of the past. The Secondary Principals' Association is considering the changes at its annual conference in Melbourne, today. Margaret Grant, the National President of the Association, is talking to David Burgess.

MARGARET GRANT: When I was first a principal, you were really concentrating on the educational program alone. Now, we seem to be concentrating on many other things like the budgets of our schools, local management, much more consultation with the local community, the school council, involving students in decision-making in schools, involving teachers in decision-making in schools, coping with the various directives we get from government from time to time. All of them have to be considered and they all take time. And of course, nationally, I think, most schools have looked at some staff cuts in recent years, so that's something else that we've had to look at.

DAVID BURGESS: Well, speaking of the challenge, what are the challenges really facing principals going into the next century? That's the theme of the conference over the next couple of days. What do you see the major challenges as being?

MARGARET GRANT: I think getting our staffs and our communities to understand that change is going to be a day to day item that we live with; that education isn't necessarily going to be the little red schoolhouse down the corner. In fact, education and schooling is probably going to be done from home - what I think Toffler called the electronic cottage - and I'm of the opinion that many of our children will work from a terminal from home, send their material by modem to school, and it will be marked and sent back to them at home. And they'll attend school some days but not every day.

I also think it will become global. Australians will have to look at, for example, what languages we teach our students. At the moment across the nation, we teach about 67 different languages. Whether we can continue to do that remains to be seen, and what criteria will we use for making that decision?

DAVID BURGESS: So we are looking at a really radical change, then, from actually schooling on site to schooling from a terminal at home. Really, how soon do you think we will actually move to a system like that?

MARGARET GRANT: Oh, I think, across the nation, we probably won't - all schools won't move to it at the same time but, already, some schools do this. For example, the Open Access College in South Australia already deals with interactive television between sites, from Adelaide to the country and from some smaller points like Loxton on the River Murray down into the Murray mallee.

DAVID BURGESS: But how long could we see it taking until this actually gets into the more mainstream areas, the larger cities?

MARGARET GRANT: Oh, I think within the next decade, that will have to happen. There's no doubt in my mind, with the rapid change taking place in technology - especially in electronics - that we'll move into that probably in the next 10 years.

DAVID BURGESS: And will that actually get us around some of the problems with staffing levels, with the tighter budgets for schools, or will it actually make things worse?

MARGARET GRANT: Well, some of the employers think it's going to make all the difference. I think it will be a mixed blessing. For example, I think that the software programs that we get to administer our schools will, in fact, make life a lot easier and we'll not have to do some of those drudge tasks that we used to do. But in the actual classroom itself, I think it will just be as complicated as it has always been. We'll just be using a different methodology.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Margaret Grant from the Secondary Principals' Association.