“The digital gap is shrinking in Peru” [German review]

a translation of Julio Segador’s report for ARD Buenos Aires

Four years ago, we launched OLPC in Peru – now the largest primary-school initiative of its kind in the world – to distribute laptops to 810 000 children. The first results of the project are emerging: The laptop does not automatically lead to better test scores for the children, but may still be useful.

Barely four years ago in Peru, one could hear on every street corner a happy children’s song that came from a promotional film on the Internet. In the video, girls and boys had small green and white laptops in their hands, tapping on them and laughing. 810,000 of them, specially adapted to the needs of children, have since been distributed, primarily to students from economically-disadvantaged families. “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) is the international project behind it, from creative director Nicholas Negroponte of MIT in Cambridge.

Now interim results of the project in Peru have been published. An expert team from the Inter-American Development Bank put rural primary schools under the microscope for 15 months.
The results are mostly positive, says Eugenio Severin, one of the researchers: “The students who have gotten the laptops had cognitive abilities develop a good five months faster during the 15-month study period.”

Hear the German-language audio of author Julio Segador, or read on for the rest.
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IDB’s Eugenio Severin on learning from Peru’s OLPC experience

The lead author of the detailed IDB study from Peru, released earlier this year, has published a good summary of their work and its implications. He highlights the tremendous efforts of Peru’s government for supporting the research and data-gathering, which will help not only Peru’s education work but that of other countries following in their footsteps.  And he groups the outcome into four key results:

  1. major change in access to knowledge, and reduction of the digital divide,
  2. improvement of cognitive skills, across many different tests
  3. no change in standardized tests for math and reading
  4. no change in school enrollment and attendance.

You can read the essay on the IDB blog.  An excerpt:

It is very important to commend the efforts of the Peruvian government for doing a serious evaluation of this program, and for sharing their results so transparently. It is a fact that there are few impact evaluations on the use of technology in education. Therefore, any contribution of knowledge helps support the efforts of many countries in the region and the world that are working to improve educational conditions for children that technologies can provide.

These are our results. First, the program has drastically reduced the digital divide, allowing many students and teachers, even in remote areas, to have access to laptops and educational content. Second, positive results were found in cognitive skills tests. The applied tests sought to measure reasoning abilities, verbal fluency, and processing speed in children. The very results are important, as they have been shown to be predictors of academic and work performance. The results indicate that children who received a laptop got ahead by 5 months of what the natural progression would have been in the development of these skills when compared to children who did not receive a laptop. Third, after 15 months of implementation, we found no statistically significant differences between children in beneficiary schools and children in control schools on learning outcomes measured by standardized tests of mathematics and language. No differences were found in relation to school enrollment and attendance.

Severin and Capota analyze 1-to-1 laptop programs in Latin America

Last month, Eugenio Severin and Christine Capota recently published a report for the IDB, analyze 1-to-1 laptop programs across Latin America and the Caribbean. They considered models for success and cost of ownership over the duration of a program, and looked at both OLPC and other 1-to-1 programs. They share a few broad recommendations for such programs:

Focus on the student and learning results. Consider One-to-One as the relationship between a child and learning, mediated by technology among other factors

Consider infrastructure, digital content, teacher training/support, community involvement, and policy

Consider both initial investment and long-term sustainability

Emphasize the role of monitoring and rigorous evaluations

OLPC has focused largely on supporting the first three points, with the fourth often left in the hands of our national partners (though we offer advice when asked). Over the past year, we have put more energy into supporting evaluations, compiling a list of OLPC research papers and publishing an overview of recent evaluations.

It’s natural for organizations like IDB that carry out and rely on monitoring to encourage and emphasize this. I find it a pity that few of the evaluations included in our overview published their raw data, or were carried out in a way that allowed their work to be directly compared to or combined with similar work in other regions.

To these researchers and others: I would love to see a nuanced discussion about what sorts of things can and should be monitored, what rigor and consistency mean across geography and time, and how data can be shared across [research] projects. Please help make this investment in monitoring improve our understanding of education and societal change, and not simply produce a (gameable) point-evaluation of the success of a policy decision.

I also hope to see a similar analysis for programs across the Mideast and Africa. The OLPC Rwanda program is being studied at the moment, but OLPC projects in http://wiki.laptop.org/images/2/24/OLPCF_M%26E_Publication.pdfEthiopia and Gaza are two of my favorite deployments worldwide — both have great insight to offer in organizing a successful locally-supported and sustainable project.