Over the weekend, The Economist picked up on a 40-day-old report from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The IDB appears to say that the MIT-incubated charity One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation is failing to improve children's education.
The anonymous Economist writer summarizes IDB's findings thus:
GIVING a child a computer does not...accomplish anything in particular. ... Peruvians' test scores remain dismal. Only 13% of seven-year-olds were at the required level in maths and only 30% in reading...the children receiving the computers did not show any improvement in maths...reading...motivation, or time devoted to homework or reading.
That's depressing. Prof. Nick Negroponte launched OLPC in a blaze of inspirational hyperbole in 2006; you may recall that his vision was to equip children in developing countries with "$100 laptops."
What a shame that, five+ years on, the world's not seeing a return on that investment. I suppose there might be some intangible benefit, but it rather looks like there's no quantitative gain.
But hang on a minute. It appears that The Economist has missed out a rather key point from the report. IDB's working paper, entitled Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop per Child Program, also says:
The results indicate that the program...translated into substantial increases in use both at school and at home. ... Some positive effects are found...in general cognitive skills as measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices, a verbal fluency test and a Coding test.
So, instead of a "disappointing return," or "not accomplish[ing] anything in particular," IDB did actually find a measurable benefit.
Could it be that the disparity between test scores and actual measured achievement means that it's the tests that are lacking, rather than the laptops? It certainly wouldn't be the first time that academic testing was shown to be seriously wanting.
And is it too much to ask for The Economist's journalists and fact-checkers to actually get as far as the sixth sentence in the report's abstract, before writing the story? I know that many of today's workers exhibit short attention-spans, but really!
Richi Jennings, editor of Input Output UK, is also an independent analyst, specializing in blogging, email, spam, security, and other technology topics. His writing has won ASBPE and Neal awards. You can encircle him at +richi, follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be his friend at Facebook.com/richij or just use boring old email: email@example.com.