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One Laptop Per Child in Peru Facing Criticism
Author: Justina Spencer, AALF Communications | August 8th, 2012

OLPCThe One Laptop Per Child initiative (OLPC), a program that seeks to improve access to technology in some of the poorest regions of the world, has been implemented in 36 countries. Approximately two million laptops have been distributed in these areas, which indicates a high level of investment considering each laptop costs approximately 200$. Currently, Peru has made the highest investment in the program, having purchased more XO laptops than any other country. However, despite the move toward ubiquitous access to technology, Peru’s OLPC initiative is facing criticism. According to results published in the Inter-American Development Bank Working Paper Series: “Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop Per Child Program” (you can read the report in its entirety here), despite the level of investment and the global scale of the initiative, “little solid evidence regarding the effectiveness of this program.” (IDB Paper, 2). In what follows, we share the results from this first randomized, large-scale evaluation of the OLPC program, and discuss the criticisms facing Peru and their 1:1 implementation. Following, we have a commentary by Claudia Urrea, the OLPC Education Director for Latin America, concerning Peru’s program and the issues discussed in the study.

The first evaluation of the OLPC program centered upon 319 small public schools in rural Peru. The data collected took place after 15 months of implementation, and sought to judge the effect that access to technology has had on human capital accumulation. Peru’s OLPC program was launched in 2008, and it aimed to distribute 40,000 laptops to approximately 550 schools across the country. In 2009, laptops were distributed to all students and teachers in the schools that had been selected for evaluation. The national policy stated that students were allowed to take their laptops home. In regard to the software used, the Peruvian government chose 39 applications that can be classified into five groups: i) Standard (write, browser, paint, calculator and chat,); ii) Games (educational, including Memorize, Tetris, Sudoku and a variety of puzzles); iii) Music (to create, edit and play music); iv) Programming (three programming environments) and v) Other (including sound and video recording and specific sections of Wikipedia).

Results from the IDB study indicate that the program dramatically increased access to computers. There were 1.18 computers per student in the treatment group, compared with 0.12 in control schools at follow-up. This massive rise in access explains substantial differences in use. Eighty-two percent of treatment students reported using a computer at school in the previous week compared with 26 percent in the control group. However, when looking at effects on education, the IDB study found no evidence that the program increased learning in the areas of math or Language.

The program did not appear to have any affect on classroom attendance, not on the time allotted to homework. In addition, it would appear that the program did not increase motivation, or improve the students’ reading habits. According to the study, this finding is surprising considering the program substantially affected the availability of books to students. The laptops came loaded with 200 books, and only 26 percent of students in the control group had more than five books in their homes. Finally, the program did not seem to have affected the quality of instruction in class. Information from computer logs indicates that a substantial share of laptop use was directed to activities that might have little effect on educational outcomes (word processing, calculator, games, music and recording sound and video). A parallel qualitative evaluation of the program suggests that the introduction of computers produced, at best, modest changes in pedagogical practices. This may be explained by the lack of software in the laptops directly linked to Math and Language and the absence of clear instructions to teachers about which activities to use for specific curricular goals.

The evaluation did find a few positive outcomes in regard to cognitive skills such as abstract reasoning, verbal fluency and processing speed, and indicated that increased interaction with technology improved cognitive skills generally.

Thus while the results indicated small or negligible effects on academic achievement, positive impacts were found in relation to cognitive competences. The study concludes that in order to improve Math and Language skills, laptop computers are not enough; high-quality instruction is necessary. The study suggests combining the provision of laptops with a pedagogical model targeted toward increased achievement by students.

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