Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Investment research concludes: First Debug the Child

Computers on schools can and will 'electrify education' (as Negroponte evaluated his OLPC projects) but only when implemented in a sensible way.  When brought into the classroom too fast, they might not enrich but damage education. This happens in rich countries as well as in middle and low-income countries. Some recent reports:
Research in Romania, comparing families having computers with those families without found that computers had a negative effect on students’ grades and educational goals.
In Colombia: with increased numbers of computers in schools, and curriculum support provided plus training for teachers, no positive impact on student outcomes was found.
In India: using computers during school hours - essentially substituting computers for teachers - actually damaged learning.

Some annotated observations, including the research findings above, from:
Atanu Dey, a contributer of the April 2010 Delhi debate
"Most of Technology Investments in Education is Wasted" 

First Debug the Child
My interest in the use — and misuse — of technology in education is a natural extension of that basic interest in development and growth. The One Laptop Per Child comes in for special scrutiny because the implications of such a program are phenomenal for a poor country like India. I have long argued that there are simpler, more affordable and more urgently needed interventions that is needed than is provided by the OLPC program. Here’s one that I recently became aware of. Timothy Ogden writes about "the glitzy One Laptop per Child program.” It’s clearly a well-written and well-researched article and is a must read. Here’s a bit:
Despite the instinctive appeal of distributing laptops to schoolchildren, there is precious little evidence that making computers available to children improves educational outcomes. The circumstantial evidence that exists certainly doesn’t buttress the one-laptop-per-child approach.
. . .
Two other recent studies (2010 and 2009) conducted in the developing world are even more telling. Economists Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches studied a program in Romania that distributed discount vouchers for the purchase of home computers to low-income families. When they compared the families that used the vouchers to acquire computers with families that were just above the income cut-off to receive the vouchers, they found that computers had a negative effect on students’ grades and educational goals. Leigh Linden, an economist at Columbia University, and Felipe Barrera-Osorio of The World Bank studied a program in Colombia that increased the number of computers in schools and provided curriculum support and training for teachers — and found no impact on student outcomes. “In this case, despite the curriculum support, it was clear that the teachers simply weren’t using the computers,” Linden says.

Linden also led one of the few experimental studies to show a positive impact from the use of computers — a project in India that provided computers and education software to schools and randomly assigned some schools to use the software during school hours and others to encourage computer use after hours. This study found that using computers during school hours —essentially substituting computers for teachers — actually hurt learning, while using them after hours as a supplement to traditional classroom teaching had dramatic positive effects on the weakest students. Even this outcome doesn’t really support the OLPC mission, though; the software evaluated is very much in the “drill and practice” model that Negroponte has explicitly derided.
Ogden further on in the article mentions a few more effective means of improving educational outcomes. There are a number of simple, cheap programs that have been proven successful at getting children in developing countries into school and helping them learn more while they are there.
The simplest and least costly of these programs is deworming. Nearly 2 billion people around the world are affected by parasitic worm infections, with children disproportionately affected. While each variety of parasitic worm affects a person differently, they all take a substantial toll on growth, energy and attention, with entirely predictable impacts on school attendance and learning. Harvard economist Michael Kremer has studied the impact of mass deworming in Kenya and India. Delivering deworming medication costs 50 cents per child per year in Kenya but yielded a 25 percent increase in school attendance; a similar program in India cost $4 per student per year and yielded a 20 percent attendance gain. “This is a simple, cost-effective and yet tragically not-done program. It’s a scandal that [deworming] hasn’t been addressed,” Kremer says. There are spillover effects as well. “The most surprising thing about the study in Kenya was the widespread impact,” Kremer says. The program drove down infection rates for several kilometers around the schools, he says, and there were significant improvements in attendance for untreated students, in the treatment schools as well as in nearby schools not in the program.
Go read it all here

To close the digital divide systematically,
see:  Beyond chalk and talk
see:  20 yrs IT in reality
see:  Sound pedagogy

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