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Schools Bought Record Number of Computers in 1984

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The number of microcomputers in public schools increased by 75 percent last year, in what one market analyst called the largest year ever for sales of computers to the nation's schools.

By the fall of 1984, officials of 69,003 public schools reported using a total of 570,000 microcomputers for instruction, according to a new national survey. The previous year's totals were 325,000 computers in 55,765 schools.

According to John F. Hood, an analyst with Market Data Retrieval, the private marketing-research firm in Westport, Conn., that conducted the survey, increases in computer usage were not limited to a particular segment of the field but occurred across the board--in public and private schools, in primary and secondary schools, and in both affluent and poor schools. The firm's report, which will be issued by May, is based on separate surveys of public and private schools and will include state-by-state summaries of computing activity.

Mr. Hood said that 85.1 percent of the nation's public schools reported using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes. That represents an increase from 68.4 percent of schools in 1983, 30 percent in 1982, and 18.2 percent in 1981.

Public schools with microcomputers averaged about 8.2 machines per school, up from 5.8 in 1983. Consequently, Mr. Hood said, the number of students per computer has "dropped dramatically," from 92.3 in 1983 to 63.5 in 1984.

The data collected showed that Apple Computers' share of the school microcomputer market rose from 49.4 percent in 1983 to 50.9 percent in 1984. Radio Shack's share dropped from 21 to 19.7 percent; Commodore's remained the same at 15.2 percent; and International Business Machines' increased slightly from 2.7 to 3.5 percent. (ibm announced last week that it will stop production of the PCjr, a machine that had been promoted for school use and was also expected to capture a large share of the home market.)

Atari and Texas Instruments machines--which last year, along with ibm, represented less than 10 percent of the market--are no longer being tracked in Market Data Retrieval's compilation, Mr. Hood said.

A 'National Inventory'

The report's findings are based on a telephone survey of all the nation's school districts conducted last summer and a follow-up mail survey of some 80,000 schools last fall.

Another market-research firm, talmis Inc. of Chicago, has reported higher figures, estimating that there were 629,700 microcomputers in public schools as of June 1984. But those figures were based on a representative sample of roughly 500 public-school respondents, said Anne Wujcik, director of educational marketing for the firm. They also include, she said, about 40,000 computers used for administrative purposes.

Mr. Hood said his firm's survey "is not a projection based on a sample. It's a national inventory. We know exactly how many computers there are in over 80 percent of the schools and we project for maybe 20 percent."

Private-School Increases

In a separate survey of some 20,000 nonpublic schools conducted between January and March of 1984, the firm found that 46.4 percent of the private, non-Catholic schools had at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes--almost double the 24.6 percent that reported owning a machine during the same period in 1983.

The percentage of Roman Catholic schools reporting computer use almost tripled, rising from 22.8 percent to 63.4 percent.

The increased numbers, Mr. Hood said, meant that in 1984 there were 40.5 students per computer in the private, non-Catholic schools and673.5 students per computer in the Catholic schools.

Reasons for Growth

Ms. Wujcik of talmis attributed this "very good year for the school market" to a combination of market forces.

"This continues to be one of the areas people hope will be a solution to some of the problems schools face," she said. "A lot of fund-raising and parental money is going into the program. Prices were extremely attractive, and those with a few computers see that that's not enough."

According to Mr. Hood, the increased buying represents a concerted effort by school officials to decrease the number of students using each computer.

Assessing Usage

Educators differ in their estimates of what the ideal student-computer ratio should be. The intended use makes a difference, they say.

Some experts, for example, note that a single computer lab in a school building is adequate to teach students about computers, but they say that if computers are to be used to deliver curriculum, then each class should have at least one.

If students are to use the computers as "tools"--for instance, to write and edit English papers--most experts say the ideal would be for each student to have a computer.

But, said Mr. Hood, "when you're at 90 or 60 students per computer, you're a long way from where you need to be. I think that's the main driving force."

Market observers will be watching closely next year, Ms. Wujcik said, for indications of the impact of computers on schooling.

Currently, with 80 to 90 percent of public schools having at least one microcomputer, "there aren't too many nonusers to add to the base,'' she said.

The degree of future growth, she continued, "will give us an idea whether this is one of those things everyone has to have a few of to be in touch or whether [computers are] really becoming central to the way schools instruct students."

School Characteristics

A breakdown of the figures collected by Market Data Retrieval shows that from 1983 to 1984:

The proportion of public elementary schools using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes increased from 62.4 to 82.2 percent, with the average number of computers per school increasing from 3.6 to 5.1 and the number of students per computer dropping from 112.4 to 79.3.

The proportion of public juniorhigh schools using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes increased from 86.1 to 94.6 percent, with the average number of computers per building increasing from 7.3 to 11.0 and the number of students per computer dropping from 92.3 to 61.2.

The proportion of public high schools using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes increased from 80.5 to 93.1 percent, with the average number of computers per building increasing from 10.6 to 16 and the number of students per computer dropping from 76.6 to 51.5.

The proportion of "affluent" schools using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes increased from 83 to 91.7 percent, with the average number of computers per building jumping from 7.2 to 10.6.

The proportion of "poor" schools using at least one microcomputer for instructional purposes increased from 53 to 74.4 percent, with the average number of computers per building increasing from 5 to 6.8.

Based on 1980 U.S. Census data, Market Data Retrieval termed an affluent school one that enrolls less than 5 percent of students below the poverty line. It rated as a poor school one that enrolls more than 25 percent of its students from homes below the poverty line. Last year's figures were based on 1970 census data, Mr. Hood said.

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