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Students Spend Little Time on Computers

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About three-quarters of the schools that own computers leave the machines idle for more than half the school day. About one-fourth and one-fifth of those elementary and secondary schools, respectively, use their computers for only about one hour a day. And most schools that own computers have only a few machines.

Those findings, outlined in the second report from a national survey on schools' use of computers, suggest that most students receive little exposure to the new technology, say the study's researchers.

The survey of 2,209 public and private schools was conducted by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at The Johns Hopkins University. The first report derived from the survey found that teachers changed their teaching patterns as they became more familiar with computers. (See Education Week, May 5, 1983.)

That many computers are used only a fraction of the day is understandable given the demands on teachers' time, said Henry Jay Becker, the director of the survey. But schools should develop plans to use the machines more effectively, he added.

How often computers are used "depends on where the computers are located," Mr. Becker said. "For example, if they're in the classroom, the teacher might want them to be idle. It's a big organizational problem. They ought to work to solve that."

Referring to the elementary schools' use of computers, Mr. Becker added: "There's no real planning, and no real reason for using computers other than the fact that the computer is there."

According to the second report based on the survey, which was released last month, the average elementary school that owns microcomputers has two machines, and the average computer-owning secondary school has five machines. The survey was conducted last December and January.

Elementary- and secondary-school students who are exposed to computers use the technology for different purposes and for different amounts of time, the survey found.

Programming is the most popular use made of computers in secondary schools, while programming and drills are the most popular uses in elementary schools, the survey found.

The median amount of time each week that an elementary-school student spends on programming and computer-literacy is 19 minutes, the survey found. The median time spent on drills and remedial work is 13 minutes, and the median time spent on games is 12 minutes.

For secondary-school students, the median time spent on those applications was 55 minutes, 17 minutes, and 11 minutes, respectively. The secondary students also spent a median time of 30 minutes using the computer for word- or data-processing, business classes, and laboratory classes in science courses.

Seventy-six percent of the elementary-school computer users get less than 30 minutes of computer time in an average week. Only 2 percent of all elementary-school computer users have access to the computer for more than one hour per week.

By contrast, 37 percent of the high-school and middle-school students who use the computer work on the machines for at least one hour weekly, and another 27 percent work for at least 30 minutes.

Officials of elementary and secondary schools also react differently when they acquire new computers, the study found. Elementary schools tend to give more students exposure to computers when they acquire more machines, while secondary schools tend to allocate more time to students already using computers.

Those figures, Mr. Becker said, suggest that computers are used for little more than exposing elementary-school students to general "computer literacy."

The survey also found that in half of the schools that own computers only one or two teachers regularly use them. In the schools where more teachers were involved with the technology, the additional teachers usually used pre-packaged programs.

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