WASHINGTON – Maryland’s public schools are more likely than most to be wired to the Internet, but have fewer advanced computers, according to a report released Monday.
Seventy-eight percent of Maryland schools have access to the Internet, compared to the national average of 70 percent, Education Week reported.
But on average, 23 Maryland students must share each computer that is advanced enough to run cutting-edge educational software, the firm Market Data Retrieval reported for the magazine. Nationwide, the ratio is 21-to-1.
“There are large numbers of low-grade computers in classrooms,” said Maryland Education Department spokesman Ron Peiffer. “We really need to do a lot of work in getting more hardware that will allow Internet access.”
Most computers in Maryland schools in 1996 were not advanced enough to support Internet programs, according to the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.
Peiffer said the short life span of computers discourages schools from making large investments in hardware. But he added he expects the state to address the concern soon.
“There’s a lot of support on the part of the General Assembly and the general public for technology,” he said.
Across the nation, about half of schools’ computers are in classrooms and half in computer labs, while Maryland has more of its computers in labs, the survey reported.
That should change in the near future, as schools in Maryland integrate technology into daily class work, Peiffer said.
While Maryland is relatively well-connected to the Internet according to the survey, it stands out the most in use of internal networks.
In Maryland, 94 percent of school districts use a wide-area network, a system in which widely dispersed computers are connected. Only Hawaii, Utah and Nevada have more districts wired to such networks.
Thirty-four percent of individual Maryland schools have access to a wide-area network, and 73 percent use more centralized systems known as local-area networks. Nationally, 30 percent of schools have wide-area networks and 65 percent have local-area ones.
Talbot County Superintendent Sam Meek said networks help his schools save money in the long run by allowing multiple users to use the same software. That cuts down on licensing fees that software companies charge for each package they sell and are a significant part of all school districts’ technology budgets.
Most Maryland schools also have cable television (81 percent) and videodisc players (57 percent). Seventy-four percent of the nation’s schools get cable and 55 percent have videodisc players.
Peiffer credited programs like Net Weekends, in which the state organizes volunteers to wire schools for telecommunication, and the support of the business community for the favorable statistics.
Meek said he is satisfied with the state’s commitment to education technology.
“I know enough about school systems in other states to say Maryland has done well in this area and is positioned to do even better,” he said.
The research firm’s results came from mail and phone surveys of all 85,000 American public schools, of which 55,000 responded.