by Violet Johnstone
Britain is the world leader in the ownership of home computers. Almost one in three (31.8%) of the nation's 23.6 million households owns a computer compared with 31% in Holland in second place and 15% in the United States.
The UK also leads the world in the provision of information technology (IT) in schools, according to a recent study by Research Machines on international comparisons on IT in schools.
Picture the scene: roughly 7.5 million computers in homes and schools around the country used for pleasure, education and business and now eating significantly into time previously spent watching television and videos.
Why has Britain become the world leader? One chief reason is the large number of computer literate children who, having being taught and given the taste for computers at school, badger their parents to have one at home.
In the early 1980s the Government financed a computer for every secondary school (while the BBC invited tenders for the construction of a state-of-the-art computer to spearhead Britain's technological advance). By 1992 in England the average number of pupils per computer in primary schools was 25, and in secondary schools 13. In 1995 this had improved to 19 and 10 respectively.
Now political parties, British Telecom and most of the cable companies are striving to provide schools with cut price computers and access to the Internet. Young people's thirst for computers has become unstoppable, and as a result ownership is highest among households with children at almost 45%, up from less than 30% in 1990.
Most parents see the computer as a valuable educational tool, especially as new software utilising CD-ROM can provide videos and speech which increases user (child) interest. Some computer games are overtly educational and with multi-media computers a student can access on-line services and "visit" the world's museums and art galleries, or review and download research from libraries and other information sources. There is a growing library of CD-ROM educational software from foreign language courses to audio-visual encyclopedias.
Working From Home
Another reason for Britain's lead is that there are more people working from home in the UK than in any other country in Europe - either as self-employed or employed workers. Almost one in five of the adult male workforce in the UK is now self-employed and more and more are choosing to work from home. Up to one million home workers use a computer, usually with a modem for external communications. They are part of a growing band of wage-earners who are taking full advantage of modern technology and whose numbers are expected to increase dramatically in the next ten years.
There is almost no office task that cannot be carried out in the home office, and employers have been quick to recognise the benefits of re-locating staff to their own homes which can be fully-equipped at a fraction of the cost of installing and maintaining a traditional office complex.
Computer skills are by no means a male preserve. A nationwide survey revealed that more than half the people taking part-time computer courses for beginners were women; 46% of those owned their own computers, and of the remainder1 81% intended to buy one within 12 months.
We have come a long way since Sir Clive Sinclair, the father of home computers, launched the first affordable consumer computer in 1980 costing less than £100. Its revolutionary breakthrough was in its price and the fact that it connected to the television which became the monitor. Since then, the home computer market has not looked back.
Home computers have become more compact, more user-friendly and, above all, cheaper. On average just over half-a million home computers were bought each year in 1992 and 1993, and this almost doubled in 1994 in the UK. Figures for 1995 are likely to show a record year because more models were available and prices continued to tumble because of intense competition in the market place.
There has been a major improvement in the hardware available and a phenomenal growth in software. Computers are no longer high-technology tools, but versatile, fun machines offering complete educational, business, communications and entertainment packages. Within seconds of switching on at home, you can be playing a visually exciting and mentally challenging game, be connected to an on-line service and be checking share prices, choosing a holiday or researching a school or college project, or, via the television be editing your holiday video.
The potential of the home computer in the future is indeed exciting. Just imagine: it will be possible to programme your utility computer so that it wakes you up at the right time with your bath already run to the required level and at the right temperature. And, while you are bathing, it will make your coffee just as you like it. Will any home be without a computer in years to come?
CAPTION Government funding in schools has given children an unstoppable thirst for computers at home. The most frequent users are teenagers who can use their computers up to 200 hours a week for educational purposes and game-playing.