Between 1981 and last year, the number of schools equipped with computers for instructional purposes grew from 18 percent to 95 percent. Unfortunately, that figure isn't as comforting as it seems.
A report to Congress this week by the Office of Technology Assessment said that despite $2 billion spent by schools on computer hardware, classrooms remain more like those of 50 years ago.While most schools now have computers, there aren't enough of them in individual schools to make a serious difference - about one computer for every 30 students, on the average. It would take another $4 billion to reduce the ratio to a more desirable three-to-one.
Not all students use computers and those who do average a little more than an hour per week with the machines - hardly enough to prepare them for the computerized world they will face as graduates.
In addition, few teachers - or those planning to be teachers - have the training to use computers as teaching tools.
Utahns are fortunate in the public school approach to computers. Utah is considered a national leader in the field and the state school office routinely gets calls from all over the country, asking for copies of its computer materials.
The state requires minimal exposure to computers from kindergarten through high school. A half-year of computer literacy is a requirement for high school graduation. Programs also are aimed at helping teachers. Like other places, however, Utah schools often have problems with enough machines for students to get significant "hands-on" practice.
Clearly, the nation - and Utah - still have a long way to go to catch up to the computer age, but at least the state is making a serious effort to include that important world in the educational process.