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Computer Instruction Rapped

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Washington--Computers should not be used as a means of instruction "under any condition," a member of the policy-making board of the National Institute of Education (nie) said last week.

Donald Barr, the headmaster at the Hackley School in New York City, said that computers represent "the first new subject in the last 100 years, and that is exceedingly important." But, he said, using computers for traditional instruction is little more than "programming the student."

During a trip to Washington for a meeting of the nie's National Council on Educational Research, Mr. Barr told a gathering of Congressional aides and educators that was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and Learn Inc. that the danger of computers creating a "have-have not" gap in schools was not as great as many have suggested. "I don't know what has to be done [to prevent greater inequities from developing],'' he said. "Probably nothing."

His greatest fear, Mr. Barr said, is that commercial software programs will dictate the use of computers in schools. He said that computers should be used instead to teach programming, from kindergarten through high school.

"A very large number of school people ... have their minds fixed on [tutorial] features," he said. "To let the machines drill students in irregular French verbs, to have them be like a solid-state Socrates--that is obscene." A recent survey by the National Education Association found that 32 percent of the teachers who use computers in their classes teach "computer literacy." The rest use computers for subjects such as mathematics, reading, grammar, and science.

Mr. Barr cited a study in which groups of students were given identical lessons by a teacher in person and over a television set. The students who attended the tv lesson performed worse. "The most extraordinary results of teaching [are] with the offhand remarks teachers make," he said.

The "related area" of the shortage of mathemematics and science teachers, Mr. Barr said, can be handled only by changing the requirements for teacher candidates.

Even if there were no teacher shortage, Mr. Barr asserted, students would perform poorly in the two areas because "inspired" teachers are not accepted into the profession.

Especially in elementary schools, Mr. Barr said, mathematics and science teachers tend to come from the ranks of college students who are not deeply interested in the subjects.

"The certification-required pedagogy courses are so appalling that [talented mathematicians and scientists] are simply repelled from the profession and go into private industry," Mr. Barr said.

The only policies that will attract first-rate teachers, Mr. Barr said, are differential salary scales and greater flexibility in certification requirements.

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