Here Come the Microkids

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with federal aid, budget cutbacks are drying up that well. Apple's Jobs points out that other nations, especially Britain, France and the Soviet Union—though surprisingly not the electronics-minded Japanese—are paying far more attention to computer education than is the U.S. Earlier this year, Jobs persuaded California Congressman Pete Stark and Missouri Senator John Danforth to introduce bills in Congress that would allow computer manufacturers to take a hefty tax write-off for any machines they donate to elementary and high schools. Under the present law, full deductions for such scientific equipment are allowed only if it is given to colleges and universities.

Jobs originally spoke of giving an Apple to every public elementary and secondary school in the country, more than 80,000 computers worth as much as $200 million retail. Now he thinks private schools should be included and is encouraging other manufacturers to join in the program as well. Meanwhile, Apple's archrival, the Tandy Corp., maker of the Radio Shack computer line, is taking a different tack: it has pledged $500,000 in equipment to spur development of educational programming, or courseware, for the classroom.

Many of the approximately 100,000 computers now in U.S. schools—roughly one for every 400 students—are in affluent suburbs like Ridgewood, a national leader in computer education. But the machines are also found in the unlikeliest of places. On a Chippewa Indian reservation in Wisconsin, computers are being used by young members of the tribe to learn their ancient and nearly forgotten language. Alaska's small rural schools have been ordering computers to meet a special need: they allow students of different ages and abilities in the same small classrooms to learn at their own pace. Dubuque, Iowa, where The New Yorker Founding Editor Harold Ross disdainfully located his provincial old lady, has 13 machines and another 20 on order. Bill Holloway, a professor of computer education at the University of Kansas, calls the spread of small computers in the classroom nothing less than an avalanche. According to various industry studies, there may be from 300,000 to 650,000 computers in the schools by 1985.

So far, the most common, and least interesting, way to use school computers is in direct drill and review. The machine simply quizzes, prods and grades the student, very much like a robot teacher. Hundreds of programs of this type are available for popular computers like the Apple II Plus, Radio Shack's TRS-80 and the Commodore PET. But many of these programs are little more than computerized rehashes of the old classroom flash cards that go back to the days of McGuffey's readers. One notable difference: today when the student answers correctly, the screen will light up with wows, HOORAYs or smiling animals. Wrong answers may produce sad or scowling faces, perhaps accompanied by a falling tear.

Partly because of teachers' fears—of the machines and for their jobs—and partly because of the poor quality of software, the frequently heralded electronic revolution in the classroom has been slow to occur. Now, however, it is being pushed along by steady improvements in teaching programs, thanks to imaginative enterprises like the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. One of its more refreshing drills: a program called Wrong Note, which

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