They make good coffee-warmers

A neat new randomised trial from Colombia finds that a major computer distribution program had essentially zero impact on test scores.

The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Colombia
Felipe Barrera-Osorio & Leigh Linden
This paper presents the evaluation of the program Computers for Education. The program aims to integrate computers, donated by the private sector, into the teaching of language in public schools. The authors conduct a two-year randomized evaluation of the program using a sample of 97 schools and 5,201 children. Overall, the program seems to have had little effect on students’ test scores and other outcomes. These results are consistent across grade levels, subjects, and gender. The main reason for these results seems to be the failure to incorporate the computers into the educational process. Although the program increased the number of computers in the treatment schools and provided training to the teachers on how to use the computers in their classrooms, surveys of both teachers and students suggest that teachers did not incorporate the computers into their curriculum.

Leigh Linden has another paper where he evaluates a randomised trial of computers in Indian schools. There, he actually finds that computer-aided instruction led to lower test scores – unless it was provided out of school.

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3 Responses to They make good coffee-warmers

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    Why would this result come as any surprise? You would have had the same result when chalk boards were introduced into schools.

    The introduction of any technology into almost any field will almost always be “inefficient” particularly where the measurement tools are ones tuned to the existing technologies. I wonder if there was a component in the assessment that measured the facility of students to operate a keyboard?

    I wonder if the assessment was done with pen and paper or whether they used a computer.

    This is the problem with all these sorts of experiments. You introduce a new factor and the total system may well change – yet the measurement only reflects one small part of the system.

    The rationale for using computers in schools is that for most of the rest of their lives students will use computers for part of their working and leisure time. We should be teaching them to use computers effectively and how do you evaluate that without using a computer?

    This sort of experiment is a waste of time and effort because they are asking the wrong question.

  2. Pingback: They make good coffee-warmers « Andrew Leigh

  3. Patrick says:

    I predicted the conclusion from your headline! Kevin is basically right.

    I can’t actually imagine how a computer could improve your secondary or primary level maths skills, apart from practice through mathematics oriented computer games perhaps. But knowing how to use Excel will sure as hell improve your ability to model/budget/chart/etc something in your first job!

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