During the news show "CNN To-day," an eight-year-old child, home from school with his mother due to illness, called in to compete for the daily prize of a CNN coffee mug. The winner of the mug was to be the first caller with the correct answer to three trivia questions. One of the questions was: "What was the 50th state added to the United States in 1959?" The little boy responded very confidently, "Hawaii!," as if to say, "Why would you ask me such an easy question?"
The two commentators hosting the show were amazed. The eight-year-old answered all three questions correctly and won the mug. When asked by one of the hosts whether his mother gave him the answers, the little boy responded, "No, I got them off the computer." It is obvious that this child lives in a home environment where computer technology is used to enhance his academic abilities, and thus has a definite head start on learning. This is not the case for most youngsters in low-income families. In the area of technology, the U.S. family structure is divided into two societies -- one where young children have access to computers and another where they do not. According to a 1993 U.S. Census report, in homes where the family income is less than $20,000, just 15% of the children living in these homes have access to a computer. In most cases, the computer is an old black-and-white terminal at best.
In contrast, 74% of those where the family income is $75,000 or above have computers. When considering race, 43% of the homes of white children have computers, compared to 16% of black and 15% of Hispanic youngsters.
College-educated Asian-American males between the ages of 24 and 54 grossing around $75,000 annual income are the largest group to use computers either at home or at work. Undereducated African-American males between the ages of 19 and 54 making $11-20,000 annually are the largest segment that do not use computers.
Along with providing low-income children with food and clothing, it is important to make sure that they are not at a technological disadvantage. Steps must be taken to ensure they will not be left behind when it comes to computer literacy.
Technology is moving at warp speed, bringing about ways of learning that a few years ago only could be dreamt about. Many educators are adding computers into their daily curriculum. Students who have computer skills primarily acquired by the use of a home computer will be able to take full advantage of the technological environment. Those who don't have access to a home computer will be left at the mercy of whatever computer time is provided at school.
When a youngster can work on an assignment at home and transfer the material to the school by way of a disk or through an e-mail address, learning becomes fun and exciting. Students who use computers don't perceive that they actually are doing something academically. To them, it is more like playing a video game at the mall.
Students utilizing computers to master basic skills perform better on standardized tests. Through the use of the computer, pupils in the lower grades tend to write more because the keyboard is easier to utilize than pencil or pens. The dropout rate for high school students who use computers regularly at home and school is drastically lower than the general high school population. Students who have computer skills are more likely to attend college than those who do not.
The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, a research project sponsored by Apple Computer, Inc., has revealed these key findings:
* Technology acts as a catalyst for fundamental change in the way children learn and teachers teach.
* It revolutionizes the traditional educational methods practiced by teachers today.
* Children become re-energized and much more excited about learning, resulting in significantly improved grades, while dropout and absenteeism rates fall.
* Kids interact and collaborate more when using technology, debunking the myth that it might isolate children and teachers.
Research has shown that youngsters learn best when several of their senses are used. With computer-assisted instruction, three of the five senses are employed. The child touches the computer, hears the sounds made by it, and sees the images on the monitor, virtually all at the same time. Important pre-literacy skills and the principles of cause and effect are being developed when a youngster begins to recognize that a specific letter pressed on the keyboard creates an image on the computer screen. Even slow-to-average children exposed to computers suddenly blossom forth.
The computer is a machine with virtually unlimited capabilities. These can be multiplied by plugging into a network of other computers by way of the Internet, bulletin board systems, or data banks via modem and telephone line. From his or her home, a child can have access to libraries across the world. More than 4,000 data bases exist in the U.S. alone, ranging from general information services such as news, weather, and sports to Web sites such as Library of Congress, Globe-Learn, World War II Archive, African-American History, Mega-Mathematics, and Science Learning Network. Children can log on to many of the major Federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, and gather the latest information on a topic of interest.
For many youngsters in low-income families, the schools are not filling in the technology gap of the home. Children in low-income families tend to live in low-income communities and usually attend schools where there is a limited tax base with no money for computers.
Presently, minorities make up less than 10% of the scientists and engineers in America. This low figure primarily is due to the fact that preparation for most careers in the areas of science and math begins at an early age. Often, because of the high cost of technology, minority children are not properly exposed to it when young.
Traditionally, the academic gap between children in low-income and middle-class families was that of a lack of basic learning materials such as books and manipulatives. These learning materials, for the most part, were inexpensive and relatively easy to provide. However, with the explosion of the technological revolution, the academic gap between low-income and middle-class kids has widened. This academic gap mainly is due to the reality that most low-income families simply are unable financially to purchase the tools necessary to place their children into the technological mainstream.
As technology becomes more and more the heartbeat of education and society, its place in the home is becoming increasingly crucial. More than ever, children, regardless of their families' economic situation, must receive basic skills instruction through the use of computer technology.
Bringing do computer home
The Bringing Learning Home Alliance, a collaborative organization established by Apple Computer; Scholastic, Inc.; the National Geographic Society; The Public Broadcasting Service; and the Computer Learning Foundation, sponsors a family computing workshop to encourage parents to become more involved in their children's education by purchasing a home computer.
Nearly four out of five parents feel that giving their offspring basic computer training will provide them with an educational advantage once they start school. Furthermore, parents believe that the best way for them to encourage their children to use a computer is to buy one and begin utilizing it.
Even though it is apparent that kids will be at a competitive disadvantage if they don't have computer skills, there often is resistance in low-income families. Most simply can not afford the cost of computer technology, and many low-income parents are not computer literate themselves and therefore don't see the great need for purchasing such an expensive piece of equipment.
Critics argue that it is not a matter of money, but priority. If low-income families can afford a $150 pair of brand-name sneakers, designer jeans, CD players, and VCRs, they can purchase a computer. The critics fail to realize that finding the money to purchase these items is a lot easier than coming up with the wherewithal to buy a $2,000 computer, even if it may be possible to do so on an installment plan with a free printer added.
Critics argue further that, if some type of computer loan program were provided for low-income families, they would use the computers merely to play games. Computer enthusiasts counter the critics by making the point that computer games have educational value by teaching logic and vocabulary skills. Charles P. Lecht. president of die New York consulting firm Lecht Scientific, maintains that "Computers help teach kids to think. Beyond that, they motivate people to think. There is a great difference between intelligence and manipulative capacity. Computers help us to realize that difference."
Probably the most important effect of computer games is that they have brought the computer into millions of homes and convinced millions of people that it is fun, useful, and easy to operate. Individuals from all sociocconomic levels have developed their interest in computers through playing computer games.
Indiana's Buddy Project, which sends computers home to live for two years with 6,000 families throughout the state, has proven that such a loan program can work. Alan Hill, president of the Corporation for Educational Technology, the Indianapolis nonprofit group that administers the Buddy Project, states, "We want to equip kids and their parents to become independent, lifelong learners."
"We also want to level the playing field, so that the poor kid's output is as good as the rich kid's," indicates Buddy Project manager Nancy Miller. By logging onto the BuddyNet via modem, children and parents are able to view a list of daily class activities and check on homework assignments.
The education potential of youngsters in the Buddy Project has been enhanced greatly, and parents have become more involved with their children's schoolwork. Teacher Jim Greiner says, "What's also amazing is the parents' response. Half the kids here are on free lunch, and I'd say only a handful of families had computers at home. But 80% or more of the parents answer me on Buddynet each night, many of them third-shift factory workers who log on after midnight. Parent conferences are different now. Fifteen minutes is too long -- the parents already know how their kids are doing."
"Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, along with several business partners, came up with a computer-based strategy to bring school closer to home. The Microsoft Parent-Teacher Connection Server provides parents with local dial-up access to school bulletin boards and e-mail, as well as video conferencing. Gates maintains that "That most important use of information technology is to improve education." His idea is that technology will make it easier for parents, students, and teachers to communicate by way of a global schoolhouse on the Internet. The drawback to this global schoolhouse concept, though, is that it may push poor children even further behind since they do not have the home computers which are a prerequisite.
Kids only have to look at the world around them to see examples of how the computer is used in Americans' daily lives, whether in shopping at the supermarket, ordering fast food, or pumping gas into the family car at the gas station. Supermarkets use computers to keep accurate inventory records and to speed up checkouts; banks to access financial records more quickly and process transactions at a much higher degree of accuracy than can be done by human hands; schools for educational training purposes; and automotive manufacturers in newer cars to make it easier to diagnose a problem and automatically adjust the suspension system for a smoother ride.
The medical profession would be paralyzed without the use of computers. Virtually every medical test given -- from taking a patient's temperature to examining the brain via a CAT scan -- are done by some type of computer. A personal computer can send letters, do calculations at the touch of the mouse, diagnose an illness, custom-tailor an insurance program in minutes, test recipes, plan a trip, and file a tax return.
Workplace of the future
Most employed Americans earn their living not by producing things, but as "knowledge workers," exchanging various kinds of information. The computer already has changed how most Americans do their jobs.
Youngsters who are denied the opportunity to use technology in their homes not only will suffer academically, but will be limited in the future job market. Whether working on Wall Street or at Wal-Mart, knowing computer technology is a necessity. Regardless of what future occupations today's young children seek -- whether in medicine, education, industry, auto mechanics, banking, or food service -- those who learn their basic skills at an early age and are comfortable in the use of technology will be at a definite advantage. According to Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanther, "The `haves' will be able to communicate around the globe. The `have-nots' will be consigned to the rural backwater of the information society."
Over the past two decades, computers have become an integral part of contemporary life. Today, most businesses use them for marketing, design, financial and statistical analysis, training, and much more. It has become increasingly important that children acquire at least basic computer skills in order to function effectively in the information-driven society and economy.
Computer-related jobs are among the most rapidly growing employment segments in the U.S. Economic studies predict that computer equipment will represent about 40% of all capital expenditures by businesses in the 21st century. A computer-literate workforce will be needed to manufacture, operate, program, and manage new equipment. The most sought-after computer specialists probably will be systems analysts, programmers, and operators. Computer consultants will be necessary to improve the efficiency of systems already in use. Computer security specialists will be in great demand to help protect the integrity of the huge information banks being developed by businesses and governmental agencies.
Other important careers in this rapidly expanding field include computer scientists, to perform research and teach at universities; hardware designers; engineers to work in areas such as microchip and peripheral equipment design; and information-center or database administrators to manage the information collected. Various support careers such as technical writers, computer-based training specialists, and operations managers will be in great demand. Although many support careers don't call for extremely technical backgrounds, they do require a knowledge of computers.
As more small and medium-sized businesses become computerized, there will be a need for employees to be computer-literate. In the 21st century, very few jobs requiring common labor will be available. Virtually all menial tasks will be done by computers, including garbage pickup. Many cities already have shifted to computerized trucks that collect specially designed trash cans from the curbs of residential homes. This eliminates the need for a driver and two persons on the back of the truck to empty the cans manually. The driver, by way of the truck's built-in computer, can do alone what it once took three men to do.
The price of a home computer continues to fall. According to one computer expert, if the price of an automobile had dropped over the years like the price of computers, a Rolls-Royce today would cost around $2.75. Moreover, if automobile technology had developed as rapidly as computer technology, that Rolls would run 3,000,000 miles on a gallon of gas.
Perhaps the day will come when computers will be as affordable as a portable 19" television set. Until that time comes, concerned citizens who have the resources, private industries, and state and Federal agencies must develop and fund programs to ensure that all children will have access to computers in their homes. Laptop computer loan programs at local libraries and youth centers could be established so that kids in low-in-come families can borrow one for home use in the same manner they can go to the library and borrow books. To some, this may seem a little far-fetched. However, if such programs are not created, children living in low-income families will not have a fair chance of competing in a technological society, and the cost to us all may be far greater than the cost of computers for such a program.…