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Schools to bone up on technology

A study by IDC says that public schools in the United States will spend $9.5 billion on information technology by 2006, a 16 percent increase from this academic year.

Public schools in the United States will spend $9.5 billion on information technology by 2006, up almost 16 percent from this year, according to a new report.

Computer hardware will account for just over a quarter of district technology budgets, according to the study from market researcher IDC. And increasingly, school systems are turning from desktops to notebooks in this category.

"As the average cost of a portable computer slips below the key threshold of $1,000, more and more districts will go the mobile route to equip their students," said analyst Stephen Webber in a statement. Notebook computers and other portable devices are popular because they allow districts to try and give each child his or her own device.

"Schools don't want to have specific technology rooms, they'd rather the technology stays with the student or goes with the student," Webber said. In many cases, that means networking is key; and PC makers have already begun targeting that market, releasing systems that come pre-loaded with the ability to do wireless networking, a popular feature in the education market.

The education market, once dominated by Apple Computer, has drawn the attention of other PC makers, including IBM and particularly Dell Computer, which edged out the long-time leader in education last year.

Hardware isn't the only category that's shifting, Webber said. Educational materials such as lesson plan supplements that had formerly been issued in paper format are now being delivered electronically.

That switch accounts for some of the increase in the IT spending figure, since those products hadn't previously been classified as IT.

Other changes include a shift in software licensing models to a network or Internet-based model. That way, students can access educational software at home or in the library, instead of solely through a classroom computer.