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What Can We Learn From Randomized Control Trials of OLPC Peru?

In 2007, Peru announced it would distribute tens of thousands of XO laptops from One Laptop Per Child to children in rural schools across the country, and expanded the program every year since. Almost 1 million laptops later, the program is now the largest XO deployment in the world and one of the most faithful to OLPC’s technology-centric Constructionist principals.

Teacher training was downplayed, with the belief that exposure to XO laptops alone would create a learning environment where children were excited and inspired to learn learning. Rather than developing relevant digital content, the focus was on how to use existing “Activities” (software applications) on the XO laptop to teach different subjects
This was a radical change from existing ICT4E best practices, which tend to focus on teacher professional development and locally relevant content as equal or greater in importance than hardware, and invited close evaluation. The Inter-American Development Bank responded with a multi-year randomized evaluation of the impact of the OLPC project in Peru – the first rigorous attempt to examine the impact of the largest “1-to-1 computing” initiative in a developing country.

Results to Date

So far, the IDB has issued two synopsis examining the academic achievement and impacts on cognitive skills that XO laptops facilitated in a 15-month randomized control trial with 21,000 students in 319 schools – an initial report in 2010, and a second report earlier this year. The summary findings should not be a surprise to ICTworks readers:

“The effective implementation of the “One Laptop per Child” program was not enough to overcome the difficulties of a design that places its trust in the role of technologies themselves. The use of technologies in education is not a magic and rapid solution through which educational problems and challenges can be solved with the simple acquisition of technological devices and systems.”

The IDB did find some positive and significant results in cognitive ability – a five-month lead over non-XO students – but no overall significant differences were found on Mathematics and Language standardized tests 15 months after the implementation.

What Does This Mean for ICT4E?

We took a deep dive into OLPC in Peru with the Inter-American Development Bank during a Technology Salon to figure out what these results mean for OLPC in Peru, “one laptop per child” projects regardless of technology, and ICT in education in general.
In the discussion, several good questions came up in relation to this study on OLPC in Peru that we should all think about.

Since IDB did not find educational outcomes from OLPC:

  1. Do any ICT interventions have impact? Or are we all just wasting our time with technology?
  2. Do we actually know how to measure the impact of ICT on education? Or are we testing the wrong things to see impact?
  3. Can any single ICT intervention have impact? Or do we need to have more interventions over longer time frames for impact?
  4. Are all laptop programs doomed? Or was Peru’s approach itself the problem?

During this month’s Educational Technology Debate, distinguished members of the ICT4E community from around the world will give context to the report and expand on these and other questions the report raises. I invite you to join us there for a spirited debate all month long.

Go To EduTechDebate Now.

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One Response

  1. T.K. Kang says:

    I am impressed by the five months lead over non-XO students on cognitive ability. The impact of the XO is on the growing mind of children and this could be indicator of “increased” intellectual abilities. Is this the result of XO usage – need more details of reserahc design, test measures, etc for better interpretation.