Study: OLPC Fails Students as a Tool for Education

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program of low-cost laptops for developing countries has not led to any measurable impact in academic achievement, according to a recent report.

Instead, the study concluded that Peru might be better off spending funding on acquiring and training high-quality teachers, and not investing in technology without complementary instruction.

The paper, published in February, concluded that the “intense access to computers” the program provided “does not lead to measurable effects in academic achievement, but it did generate some positive impact on general cognitive skills.”

Specifically, the paper found that students generally improved their ability to operate computers, but showed no statistically significant improvement in math or language skills. In fact, the computers showed no measurable impact on improved attendance or the willingness to do homework, either.

The paper was co-authored by five researchers, and bore the imprint of the Inter-American Development Bank. However, it noted that the work is that of the authors, and is not endorsed by the IADB.

In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at MIT, founded the One Laptop per Child Program, which developed a low-cost laptop to provide computing resources to the developing world. In 2009, OLPC laid plans to develop a tablet. According to Negroponte, the OLPC nonprofit has spun off and set its own agenda, leaving Negroponte’s group to pursue its own direction.

The study surveyed 319 public schools across Peru, a country that generally performs on par with other Latin American countries once economic inequalities are taken into effect. The OLPC program in Peru was launched in 2008 with the distribution of 40,000 laptops in about 500 schools.

One problem immediately manifested itself. One of the OLPC’s core principles was that the netbook should be connected to the Internet; however, a lack of connectivity meant that hardly any were. The netbooks ran a range of general software, including a word processor, browser (that could access an on-disk copy of Wikipedia), music recording and playback software, and language tools.

While the study’s results were generally disappointing from an educational perspective, the OLPC did seem to help students improve their general cognitive skills across three separate tests covering abstract reasoning, verbal fluency, and processing speed. They included about 4.6 months of progression for a coding test, to six months for verbal fluency and 5.1 months for cognitive skills, compared with a control group.

Source: (link opens in a new window)

Education, Impact Assessment, Technology
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