Study Views Computers In Independent Schools

By William Snider — January 29, 1986 3 min read

Independent private schools have been able to amass more than twice as many computers per student as public schools, according to a study released this month by the National Association of Independent Schools.

Those responding to the survey also indicated that inadequate teacher training, rather than a lack of resources, was the greatest barrier to increased computer use.

“The obstacles to greater use have more to do with people issues than money issues,” said Cheryl R. Hamilton, author of the N.A.I.S. study, “Computers in Independent Among non-Catholic private Schools.”

“If we had three times as much money, that wouldn’t mean we had a greater acceptance of computers,” she said.

On the other hand, the study also found that in many cases the enthusiasm and knowledge of “a single teacher” often sparked school interest in computers, and that the single teacher usually directed the overall development of computer uses.

“Independent schools are small, flexible, open to innovation, and unencumbered with bureaucracy,” the study says.

“Qualitative factors--for example, a single teacher’s curiosity about computers, enthusiasm for their potential, persuasive powers, and persistence--may well be the definitive catalysts for creative and extensive use of computers at most independent schools.”

The organization’s member institutions- the majority of which are coeducational day schools--had an average of one computer for every 27 students enrolled in mid-1984, when study data were compiled.

Similar Findings

In comparing the two sectors, the study puts the public-school ratio at one computer per 100 students, a finding reported in a similar public-teacher school survey conducted a year earlier.

But according to a more recent survey by Market Data Retrieval, a Westport, Conn., market-research firm, public schools in mid-1984 had one computer for every 71 students.

Among non-Catholic private schools, that study found, the student-to-computer ratio was 66 to 1.

The average annual tuition of the 653 schools responding to the N.A.I.S. survey was $4,246 in 1984. The average per-pupil expenditure in the nation’s public schools during the same year was less than $3,500.

Obstacles to Expansion

When asked to name the major obstacles to increased computer use, 80 percent of the N.A.I.S. survey respondents listed lack of teacher training, 71 percent said lack of time, and 46 percent cited computer “phobia.”

All three obstacles are related, Ms. Hamilton concluded in her report. “Making or taking time to train teachers to use computers is the only way to overcome their computer phobia,” she wrote.

Lack of software was cited as an obstacle by 48 percent of the respondents

On average, only 21 percent of the teachers at N.A.I.S. schools responding to the survey had received inservice training on computer applications or programming during the preceding year.

Independent schools are using computers primarily to improve students’ computer literacy and to teach programming, according to the survey data.

Programming is taught at 86 percent of the schools surveyed and computer literacy at 80 percent. Only 44 percent of the schools use their computers for writing assignments and 26 percent for drill exercises.

There are no comparable statistics for computer usage in public schools during the same time period, but Henry Jay Becker, author of two surveys on the instructional uses of microcomputers, said he believed programming was receiving less emphasis in the public schools at that time.

Other findings of the survey include:

  • Only 1 percent of independent schools use no computers in instruction.
  • Computers are used for administrative tasks by 69 percent of the schools surveyed, compared with more than 90 percent of public schools. The primary administrative use among the independent schools is for fundraising and development activity.
  • The heads of the schools surveyed estimated that 40 percent of their students had access to computers at home. Only 41 percent of the school leaders themselves reported having had first-hand computer experience, but 70 percent had attended a workshop on the subject.

Further information on the study is available from N.A.I.S. Information Services-lNSEARCH, 18 Tremont St., Boston, Mass. 02108.

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 1986 edition of Education Week