At $200 per computer, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) has sold or facilitated donations of about 2.5 million laptops to classrooms in 42 different countries.
A new study suggests those laptops do not, however, have any effect on achievement in math or language.
The study, which was conducted by development funding source in Latin America called Inter-American Development Bank, looked at 319 public schools in Peru. It found that although OLPC students were more likely to use computers than their non-OLPC counterparts, the two groups scored about the same on math and language assessments 15 months after laptops were deployed.
Furthermore, the laptop program did not affect attendance, time allocated to school activities or quality of instruction in class. Even though the laptops came loaded with 200 books, reading habits of recipients matched those of their control-group peers — 74% of whom have five or fewer books in their homes.
“It has been suggested that the introduction of computers increases motivation, but our results suggest otherwise,” write the study’s authors.
Students with OLPC laptops did, however, score better than their peers on tests for general cognitive skills.
Considering previous research on one-to-one laptop initiatives, the lack of evidence that OLPC influences learning outcomes isn’t surprising.
A 2010 review of one-on-one laptop initiative research by the government of New South Wales boils down the reason for such mixed results to simply “leadership is crucial.”
In other words, laptops are not magic cure-alls for educational woes (surprise!).
“One-to-one laptop programs may simply amplify what’s already occurring—for better or worse—in classrooms, schools, and districts,” writes Bryan Goodwin in a recent article about one-on-one computing in Educational Leadership,
NCLB did not respond to requests to comment on this article. But it’s hard to argue its mission of increasing access to computers, even computers that don’t magically improve tests scores, is a bad idea. The bigger question is whether $200 laptops are the best education investment that low-income countries — which spend on average $48 per year per student — can make.
Should the lack of evidence that students learn better with NCLB laptops change this equation, or are the benefits of individual laptops that can’t necessarily be measured more important? Let us know in the comments.