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YESTERDAY’S COMPUTERS FORCING SCHOOLS TO SLIP BEHIND IN TODAY’S HIGH-TECH WORLD

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To read much of the press coverage of technology in the nation's schools, one might easily be led to believe that education today is a high-tech affair. Internet connections, multimedia software, CD-ROMs, satellite communications, local area networks - all figure into the picture of the typical computer-intensive classroom.

Citing the classroom as the next hot technology market, Microsoft has announced a national campaign to get its state-of-the-art Windows 95 operating system installed on workstations throughout America's schools.But at least in the short run, most of those schools won't even be able to install the RAM-hungry Windows 95. The fact is that the typical classroom, far from being a high-tech haven, is more likely to be limping along with underpowered, hopelessly obsolete computers, without access to many of the technologies that claim most of the coverage in the press.

Consider these facts, drawn from Quality Education Data Inc.'s nationwide data base:

- Although the ratio of students to computers in America's schools has dropped steadily in the past decade, 98 percent of public schools with computers are saddled with Apple IIs, Commodores and TRS-80s - aging, outmoded equipment that simply cannot run today's much-ballyhooed multimedia educational applications.

- Despite the much-publicized efficiency and power of networked computers, only 25 percent of the nation's public schools use computer networks for instructions.

- While CD-ROM drives have become more prevalent in the classroom, 65 percent of public schools still do not use them.

- Even though there has been much emphasis on preparing American students to cruise the information superhighway, only 31 percent of public schools even have the modems they need to access the Inter-net.

- And regardless of the hoopla over Windows 95, only 19 percent of America's public schools have computers that are compatible with the old version of Windows.

The technological backwardness of many schools may come as a surprise to many parents and taxpayers. After all, high-powered workstations, capable of high-resolution color graphics and digital sound, have long been prevalent on office desks, and even heavy industrial facilities are increasingly computerized. With the steady decline in cost of multimedia-compatible computers, CD-ROM drives, high-speed modems and 16-bit stereo sound cards are finding their way into a growing number of homes as well. To browse the educational software aisle of the typical Wal-Mart, it's easy to conclude that high-speed processors and super-VGA monitors are everywhere today.

But educational software publishers that specialize in products for the schools know that the classroom is a very different technological environment than the home. New technologies may not take root in schools until years after they have become commonplace in the consumer market.

At Advantage Learning Systems, we continue to see a very strong demand for Apple II compatible versions of our new software releases, despite the fact that Apple itself stopped servicing and producing replacement parts for the computer nearly two years ago. In this environment, what chance does Windows 95 stand, when experts are predicting it will take as much as 16 megabytes of RAM to run smoothly?

Many schools are spending more on computer technology - but most have a long way to go before they'll catch up to the level of sophistication found in most businesses and many homes. And with school funding from federal, state and local sources on the decline, it's not likely that many schools will be able to close that gap very soon. In the meantime, education software developers will need to create applications that work on yesterday's computers - and Bill Gates may find fewer schools snapping up Windows 95 than he had hoped.