In an ironic twist, the state of Mississippi this week became the first state in the union to install on-line computers in each of its public school classrooms. For a state often at the bottom of the educational ladder, this marks a major milestone.
Mississippi is poor and that poverty reflects itself in virtually all aspects of daily life. Physicians are fleeing the state because of the high concentration of Medicaid patients and students there often test among the lowest in the nation. But now - at long last - Mississippi has won some limited braggin' rights in education circles. It certainly wouldn't hurt Missouri to follow their lead.
Mississippi was able to install the $40 million computer network with only $6 in taxpayer money because of federal funds and private donations. That shows a creative spirit that Missouri could well use given our depleted budget.
Poverty and lower academic standing go hand in hand. The statistics prove that in crystal clear fashion. But Mississippi officials are unwilling to accept that lackluster performance and, through the use of the computer network, have vowed to change that poor standing for their state.
All of the computers in the world however will fail to reverse a learning deficit unless there is a guiding presence in the home. Computers are just machines - hardwear that operates only as well as the operator. But this improvement is an important first step.
Soon all states will be fully "wired" in this growing technology. But for those who believe that computers will solve our problems, think again. It's somehow fitting that Mississippi - long at the bottom of all academic lists - should be the first to fully embrace computer technology. But as officials there recognize, that new technology will be meaningless unless there is a reinforcement of the need for learning. That reinforcement comes in the classroom and in the living room. Without that support, computers are just gadgets that hold unfulfilled promise.