No Computers in the Classroom?
By: Cindy Richardson

      This paper addresses the fact that schools do not have enough technology in the classrooms.   Statistics show that certain students are at a greater risk of having less technology in their classrooms.  Many schools that have a majority of poor students or minorities at their schools are at a greater risk.  There are many reasons for having computers in schools.  The benefits of computers are very great.  Computers in the schools allow the students to get a head start in a world where technology is becoming critical.  When the computers do get in the classroom, it is just as important to have teachers there that can teach the students about the computers.  While there are many problems in the school system with computers, a lot is being done to improve the situation.  This paper assesses the problems in the schools systems and then tells what is being done about it.  

       “Preparing our children for a lifetime of computer use is now just as essential as teaching them to read and write and do math” (President Clinton’s Call to Action for American Education in the 21st Century, 1997).  The United States is becoming more technology oriented every day.  While the world is moving ahead in technology, the school system is lagging behind in teaching about it.  Many students are not being adequately prepared for a future in which computers and the Internet will be part of every job.  Statistics show that a number of schools have no access to computers and/or the Internet.  The students that are most at risk are the economically deprived and the minority school districts.  Teachers are not being trained well enough so that they can help students become more familiar with the Internet.  Several initiatives have been started to try to get the students up to standard so that they are able to use the computer and the Internet to its fullest ability.

      One of the most common misconceptions about schools is that everyone is hooked up to the Internet or at least have computers that are available for the students to use.  In a world where the Internet is becoming more common and knowledge about a computer is a must, many schools have yet to provide their students with this type of access.  There are currently 4.4 million computers in the classroom.   This sounds like a lot of computers, but that still means that with the number of students attending schools that is about 10 students per computer.  This number is a great advancement from the 125 students per computer in 1984.  Look at Figure 2 for instance.  The number of students per computer greatly decreases in a short span of 12 years.  It is apparent that the school systems are realizing how valuable computers are to the education of their children.  This is a very positive thing but more definitely needs to be done.  
      As the students rise from elementary to junior high then to high school the ratio of students to computers does get lower.  The students in the elementary schools are not getting as much time with the computer, which is when they are most likely to learn the most. The number of schools that have computers and Internet access is 64 percent.  The actual number of classrooms and computer labs that have Internet access is a low 14 percent.  Many schools give the administration access to the Internet but have yet to connect the students to the Internet.  As of 1997 only four states, Delaware, Hawaii, New Mexico, and South Carolina, had 100 percent of their school system connected to the Internet (QED, 1997).

The Good of Having Computers in Schools
      “The hard fact is that this paper could not have been written in its present form without a computer and the Internet.  Word processing and spreadsheet capacity provided the necessary tools, and valuable resources were found on the Internet…  This is the way the world is working now, and it is more efficient than it was in the days of typewriters.” (Lynn Hammond, Computers in Our Schools – Challenges and Solutions)  The fact is that everyone should be using the computer.  Think of the day when everyone had to go to the library and look through the card catalog to find information on a topic to be researched.  Then you went through the trouble of locating the book just to find out that someone else has already checked out that particular book.  Then you had to go to a different library and repeat the same process.  
       With access to the Internet and computers, students are able to find information about any topic that they are researching in a phenomenally shorter time frame.  The Internet provides a wealth of information that students would find difficult to encounter anywhere else.  Students not only find information, but also communicate with other students around the world and learn about them and their way of life.  It will create a bridge between students that live next door to each other and students that live around the world from one another.  “The student in Chicago learn that no, teenagers in Senegal don’t live in mud huts and don’t eat leaves, and the student in Senegal learns that kids in Chicago don’t have schools full of gangsters and guns.” (Linda McGinnis, Wiring a Global Playground)  

      Even if the Internet is not set up in the classroom, the students will benefit from basic word processing.  It will allow the student to write papers with greater ease than before.  They will find it easier to use and will be more likely to produce a better product because of this. In “Computers in our Schools- Challenges and Solutions”, Lynn Hammond states that computers will make learning easier by “removing the grunt work from the tasks of learning” which will enable the writer to concentrate more on their ideas. 

Kids at Risk of Having No Computers in Class
      At risk students are those that will not get the proper education about computers and the chance to use them.  While many schools do not have computers, there is a common factor between all of the schools that are not properly equipped with the right technology.  The majority of the students that go to these schools are either classified into one of these groups: poor, race, ethnicity, or language. These students are usually put into programs that do not get the benefit of computers. 

      The schools that have the largest number of economically disadvantaged children are the ones that have the lowest number of computers in the school.  The ratio of students to computers in these schools is much higher than the United States average.  In Figure 3, it is apparent that as Title 1 students, students that are eligible for free or reduced lunch, become the majority at the school the fewer computers the school has, and the more students there are per computer  (Source:  QED (Quality Education Data), 1997).  The same is true for schools that have over 90 percent of the students as a minority.  Figure 4 shows that as the percentage of minority students increases in a school the ratio of students per computer increase significantly. The ratio jumps from 10 students to 1 computer, to 17 students to 1 computer.  Schools that have a majority of poor and minority students have a lower number of Internet connections within the classroom.  In Figure 12, it shows that has the percentage of the poor students goes up the less likely the school is going to have Internet connections.  The same conclusion can be made if the number of minority students is great in a school then the school will probably not have Internet access  (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997).
Computers seem to have widened the gap between the different economic classes, race groups, and gender types (Kleifgen ).  The students that need more computers are the ones that are not getting them while the schools with enough money are constantly getting new technology. The school is doing a great disservice to these students.  The students without any knowledge of computers are going to find it more difficult to succeed in a world that is based around the operation of a computer.  Jobs will be given to a person that has had experience working with the computer over one that has not.  

Teachers and Training

      Everyday students are being encouraged to use the computer and to familiarize themselves with the Internet.  The same thing should be said to the teachers.  In 1994, the average of teachers per state who have had at least nine hours of technical training was 15 percent (Computers and Classrooms, 1999).  Many teachers do know how to use a computer but the problem is that most do not know how to inform their students about how to work a computer.  The teachers need to be trained specifically in the field of teaching others about computers.  Many students get their first taste of computers and the Internet at school.  If the teachers are not able to handle teaching the students about this new technology, then who is going to teach them about it.  They would get no where one their own.  It would be the same effect as asking a first grader to do multiplication.  They would have no idea where to start.  Each year schools receive money for technology.  It is recommended that the schools use 30 percent of the money for training, but on average only 5 percent is spent (Llanos, 1999).  A survey preformed by the Department of Education found that one out of five teachers feel comfortable teaching and using technology in their classroom. 

What is Being Done
       There are many problems with the technology in the school systems.  Yet these problems have not gone unnoticed and people are doing something about it.  Many schools are currently without computers and Internet connection.  Companies are donating their time and money to help schools get the necessary equipment in their schools.  Schools with little funding are able to locate discounts on certain aspects of getting the Internet connection such as the phone lines and network connecting.  

        “As computers replace blackboards and as the Internet provides access to the world’s store of knowledge, teachers must learn how to incorporate these tools into their classrooms and curricula.” (Llanos, 1999)  Programs are being started that will help educate the teachers in the technology so that they are able to better help the students.  Public Schools are starting to require teachers to take certification courses that will instruct the teachers.  Seminars are being held that will teach teachers about online systems.  The school system is setting aside more money to cover the cost of these instructions.  More schools are starting to reward their teachers for attending classes about technology in the classroom.
        The President of the United States has even addressed the situation.  In the Call to Action for American Education two of his main topics were to “make sure there’s a talented and dedicated teacher in every classroom” and “connect every classroom and library to the Internet.”  As the information increases in the schools, the teachers must be given the highest quality training and preparation in order to deal with the demand that is going to be made on them.  “Today, technological literacy—computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity and performance—is a new basic that our students must master.” (President Clinton’s Call to Action for American Education in the 21st Century, 1997)  Informative software is being developed that will help guide not only the teacher but also the student through the computer and the Internet. 
        Three companies, Schools Online, World Links, and I*Earn, have begun to provide needed resources to underdeveloped schools.  Schools Online goes to remote regions in the United States and the world and wires the school up for the Internet.  World Links helps to provide computer-training skills to teachers of economically deprived schools.  I*Earn gives the teachers educational resources that will help them in the classroom (DeMocker, 2000).  


       The United States still has a long way to go to make sure that the students are ready for the future.  The statistics show great improvement in the last ten years in both computer/student ratios and the number of classes that have been connected to the Internet.  Private Companies are donating time and materials to help students in undeveloped schools to help get the school more up to date.  More emphasis is being placed on teachers learning how to use the computer, and then using the computer in her classes to also help the students learn.  Many government funded programs have been started that will fund the needs of the lower income schools.  


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