What are the effects of giving each child a laptop?

This study I found via Gabriel Bouchaud examines the possible effects of the One Laptop per Child in Peru. Other than my normal procedure I want to start with the abstract as it summarizes a lot already:

This paper presents results from a large-scale randomized evalua- tion of the One Laptop per Child program, using data collected after 15 months of implementation in 318 primary schools in rural Peru. 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 of computers both at school and at home. No evidence is found of effects on test scores in math and language. There is some evidence, though inconclusive, about positive effects on general cognitive skills.

This doesn’t sound that bad. The pupils use computers more – what a suprise if they didn’t own a computer before – but does it have an effect on education?

Well? The computers were packed with over 200 books, but… the pupils didn’t start to read more. They didn’t spent more time on education. And… they didn’t really seem to do better in class.

Or as the researchers summarize:

In general, we do not find conclusive evidence indicating clear changes in behavior in these dimensions. Regarding study time at home, we document some positive effects on whether the student studied at home the prior day. Nonetheless, results indicate small effects on whether the student studied one or more hours daily the prior week. In terms of reading, results suggest some negative effects on whether the student read a book the prior day but small effects on whether the student read a book the prior week.20 Overall, we find no statistically significant effects on the specific outcomes analyzed or on the learn- ing behavior summary measure.

…did increased computer access affect academic and cognitive skills? Table 9 shows that there are no statistically signi – cant effects on the academic achievement summary measure when focusing on all students and also when restricting to those in the interviewed sample (columns 1 and 2, respectively). Small standard errors allow ruling out modest effects. Also, there are no statistically signi cant effects on either math or language achievement for both samples.

Our results suggest that computers by them- selves, at least as initially delivered by the OLPC program, do not increase achieve- ment in curricular areas.

I’m a bit in a bind here. I do not want to state that it is a bad idea to give computers to children in need. But this study does show that just giving kids a computer – or putting them in a wall – doesn’t do much.

 

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