New Swedish report on 1 laptop per child: no benefits for learning, possible negative effect on equality

Sara Hjelm pointed me to this new, Swedish report on giving every child a laptop in education. The conclusion is pretty clear:

On average, we find no significant impact of 1:1 programs on student performance, as measured by their results on national standardized tests in mathematics and language at the end of lower secondary school. These findings are in line with the results in Crista et al. (2012) and De Melo, Machado and Miranda (2014), although at least the former studies a vastly different context (schools in poor regions of rural Peru). We extend the literature by examining effects on the probability of transitioning to upper secondary school and the students’ choice of educational track. We find no effects on average in these respects either. We also examine if the impact differs depending on if the schools use laptops or tablets. These results indicate that tablets may bring about some negative effects on student performance. The estimates for 1:1 laptop programs are, on the other hand, always small and statistically insignificant.

It is sometimes proposed that 1:1 programs may reduce inequality in educational outcomes as they provide low-SES students with resources they might otherwise lack (the so called ‘digital divide’). We find no support for this claim. If anything, our results suggest the reverse. The performance gap in mathematics between students with low- and high-SES background seems to increase to some extent, and so does the gap in the probability of being admitted to a college-preparatory program in upper secondary school.

Abstract and summary of the findings:

Classrooms all over the world are becoming increasingly technologically advanced. Many schools today provide a personal laptop or tablet to each pupil for use both in the classroom and at home. The intent of these 1:1 programs is that information and communication technology (ICT) should be extensively involved in the teaching of all subjects. We investigate how pupils who are given a personal laptop or tablet, rather than having more limited computer access, are affected in terms of educational performance. By surveying schools in 26 Swedish municipalities regarding the implementation of 1:1 programs and combining this information with administrative data, we estimate the impact on educational outcomes using a difference-in-differences design. We find no significant impact on standardized tests in mathematics or language on average, nor do we find an impact on the probability of being admitted to upper secondary school or the students’ choice of educational track. However, our results indicate that 1:1 initiatives may increase inequality in education by worsening math skills and decreasing enrollment in college-preparatory programs in upper secondary school among students with lower educated parents

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