Thursday, April 12, 2012

Computers alone do not improve a child's education

The study "Technology and Child Development" found no evidence is that providing One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computers to Peruvian primary school children improved their maths or language. There were some improvements in general cognitive skills.

This finding should not be surprising, as there is no reason why providing a computer to a child should improve education results. What is needed is educational content on the computers and also education for teachers on how to make use of the computers. In terms of education policy, providing computers to impoverished children may be harmful, as the cost of the computers will have to come from the education budget and so will reduce other educational resources available to those children.

I suggest a higher priority should be the provision of a computer to each teacher, along with Internet access and online educational materials. The teacher can use the computer to improve their teaching skills and to obtain materials for their students. Only after teachers have computers and are trained in their educational use, should computers for students be considered.

Also as smart phones become cheaper and widely available in developed nations, they may provide a more affordable way to provide online educational resources. Also low-cost web terminals, which use mobile phone components and a home TV as the screen, would be a useful option. Some new TVs come with a web terminal built-in (increasing the cost of the TV by about $25).

The OLPC program did not set out to enhance traditional education. It was an experiment using the children of less developed nations as unwitting experimental subjects, to see if a low-cost computer could be built and could provide a new form of education. That experiment has shown that low-cost computers can be built and can provide some general cognitive benefit. But that experiment was ethically questionable. Those receiving the OLPCs had assumed these were to help with education as they knew it to be, that is not the case and the OLPC project should be terminated.

Although many countries are aggressively implementing the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program, there is a lack of empirical evidence on its effects. This paper presents the impact of the first large-scale randomized evaluation of the OLPC program, using data collected after 15 months of implementation in 319 primary schools in rural Peru. The results indicate that the program increased the ratio of computers per student from 0.12 to 1.18 in treatment schools. This expansion in access translated into substantial increases in use both at school and at home. No evidence is found of effects on enrollment and test scores in Math and Language. Some positive effects are found, however, in general cognitive
skills as measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices, a verbal fluency test and a Coding test.

From: Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop per Child Program, by Julián P. Cristia, Pablo Ibarrarán, Santiago Cueto, Ana Santiago and Eugenio Severín, published by the World Bank, February 2012.

No comments: