One Laptop per Child: Disappointing results?

One Laptop per Child: Disappointing results?

Summary: Is the One Laptop per Child scheme producing the results we expected?

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Simply purchasing a device such as a laptop and handing it to a child is unlikely to turn them into the next Zuckerburg. However, it can teach them basic, valuable skills that will assist them when it is time to leave education and support themselves by joining the work force.

At least, this is the view from Peru, where the largest program involving One Laptop per Child, an American charity's scheme currently operates. Active in more than 30 developing countries across the globe, the aim of the project is to provide children with access to a laptop for educational purposes.

However, according to an evaluation of the scheme's success by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the results may not be as promising as we may have hoped.

Peru is one of the few places that is currently enjoying an economic boom -- but it has one of Latin America's lowest-ranking educational systems, which no doubt hampers its economic capabilities in a global setting.

After spending $225 million to provide 850,000 laptops across the country, it was hoped that test scores in basic education, such as math and literacy, would improve.

It has not been successful. According to a report released by Peru's education ministry last month, only 13 percent of those under ten achieve a basic standard in math, and only 30 percent in literacy.

The IDB's evaluation, a study of 319 primary schools in Peru conducted over a period of 15 months, found that the children who received the laptops showed no improvement, and nor did access to such devices lead to increased motivation to learn or more time spent studying.

Why such results? The IDB concluded that OLPC does not provide enough guidance for teachers to show students how to effectively use the computers in class -- and so the next item on the agenda should be improving teacher training.

However, the report does congratulate the Peruvian government for providing the computers, as less than 25 percent of households had access to a computer in 2010.

Now, far more students and households have access to such devices -- the ratio of computers to students rising from 0.28 to 1.18 -- and it will help students become more comfortable with basic tasks, even if that is not reflected in test scores for general education.

It is not surprising that simply having access to such devices becomes a catalyst for improved education. Instead, technology has to be carefully integrated into courses as a supplementary means of improving learning environments -- and teachers must be trained properly in its use.

Image credit: One laptop per child


Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • Schoolchildren?

    Indeed they do not need laptop for anything but acquiring some computer skills.
    • ... and improve cognitive skills

      At least that is one of the IADB study findings, surprisingly neglected by most readers
  • oh god...

    ...if they are going to impose American-style teacher training on the Peruvians, then they are doomed to failure.
    • Luckily not

      We designed the training module and also the project deployment plan based on our reality not an ideal wishful thinking scenario. This meant interesting and instructive discussions with Nicholas Negroponte and his team, for example, when we coined the expression "asynchronous connectivity" to cope with the lack of Internet in most schools.
  • Someone just Pocketed $100 Million Dollars...all in one government project.

    Wow! Great job.

    " I think I speak for all of us when I say, garbage in and garbage out."
    ( To validate my logistics that 5" screen flipped open from what appears to be a so called laptop would have to cost $250 per stupid; sorry, I mean to say student.)
  • This happens (EVEN MORE) in the U.S.A.

    The Department of Education and liberal teacher unions of the U.S. promote failures such as these (at taxpayer expense) all the time. Brand new buildings and the latest fancy tech gizmos always provide the greatest education (surrrrre !!!!). It's about time teachers get back to basics, teach reading, writing, and arithmetic before all humanity turns into Facebook, Twitter (unemployable) trailer trash.
  • Technology is not the savior of education

    Despite what the ed-tech startups sell to the venture capitalists or to the public education, technology will not save the education system. Good parenting is the only savior of the education system. Technology is a toy, not a substitute for discipline or rigor.

    Countries with far less tech in the classrooms like India or China can still score better than the US which have far more tech in the classrooms.
    US spends on-average 6-10K per student compared to less than 1-2K in India and China.

    Parachuting in tons of OLPC to Peru is a noble effort, but unfortunately wasted if the $225 mil can not raise the Peru's average income of $200/month.
    • Peru average income

      Per capita income in Peru was estimated by the IMF as US$5,195 in 2011 due mainly to the increase in mining products. I agree technology is not the silver bullet for education but an Educational system that ignores or neglects learning how to use it is also doomed. We need Math, Reading AND ICT skills
  • It's still a great idea and a noble charity

    It is a charity for those thinking it was a tax based program. It might be best done in a two prong approach. Teach the children to read, write and compute and then introduce them to technology. They might even use them an educational incentive: those able to demonstrate a certain level of literacy become eligible to receive a laptop. That way it isn't just free but something learned = something earned.
  • Here is a simple fact ....

    You can build a house ..... but without a solid foundation it will eventually crumble with its own weight.

    In the case of the OLPC, you have a great product that delivers the features and functionality it promised. But like a house without a solid foundation, the product is crumbling in its own weight ... because there is no infrastructure to support it.

    Every time I read about the OLPC, I always look for what is the infrastructure being build around the product. Things like training for teachers, software tailored to the class, IT support (even if it is student based) .... nothing mayor. But every time you read about it, all you hear is about numbers and nothing about how it will achieve the target results.

    So in the end, the great product that can deliver when used right, is failing because the people who made the decision did not take into account the fact that the product does not do anything on its own. It requires additional work by others. Work that is never done or even funded.
  • Technology in Early Childhood Education

    My colleague, Dr. Dale McManis, had the following to say about this:

    "Charlie, More people are coming to understand the inappropriateness of technology for technologys sake. I've been in early learning for many years, and now conduct research in the development and testing of educational technology. It is critical to have quality research-based content to use with kids in order to meet specific educational expectations. You make some great points in this post about the need to integrate technology in classrooms appropriately and effectively. Teachers must have strong professional development to successfully use technology in their classrooms to meet learning goals. This is one of the fundamental premises in the recently released technology position statement by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center ( and in the US Office of Educational Technology National Technology Plan ( Recently, Brian Puerling, PBS Teachers Choice Award Winner and the author of Teaching in the Digital Age: Smart Tools for Age 3 to Grade 3, presented a Webinar hosted by our organization in which he discussed and showed many best practices examples of using technology in an integrated manner to provide meaningful learning experiences to young children ( ). As are many, we're extremely interested in discussing these kinds of topics in our papers and through our social media efforts. Resources available on our blog at"

    Dr. Dale McManis
    Research Director
    Hatch Early Learning
    • Educational outcome = Improved test scores ? I don't agree

      Why do most comments imply educational outcomes equal improved test scores in Math and Reading? There are also other educational outcomes worth pursuing. Being able to manipulate a computer to do what a child wants to do, like write a text or find information (things at which the IADB study found dramatic improvement) are good and desirable educational outcomes. Improved cognitive skills are also good and hopefully will show in test scores in the future, 15 months might be to short.

    How are these hardy little machines being used to assist the children's learning? Who is writing the software so that the content is in the student's own language? How well is the culture of the particular children reflected on the screen they are viewing? What is the ratio of the visual and graphics to the text rather than having just wordy textbooks on the screen? How well have the children's teachers been instructed in the potential of the OLPC machines and how they can most effectively be integrated into the school-day? Are electronic whiteboards being used as well?
    • good questions, some answers

      You are asking questions for content delivery software. We put none because you need well educated (not only well trained) teachers to use it properly, something we did not have and was well out of our reach. The XO's come loaded with learning SW, meaning students would interact with the computer to do things they want to, not to follow machine's instructions, activities like creating a family movie of taking a picture of their brothers and sisters for the first time in their lives; using a word processor to tell a story they think is worth telling, etc. We designed and delivered a 40 hours workshop on pedagogical uses of the 39 applications preloaded, including 8 hours of hw-sw maintenance. It must have worked because half of the reported malfunctioning machines were repaired. Remember many of the target schools don't have electricity and I am not sure e-blackboards make a difference when you don't have good teachers
  • OLPC Idiocy

    "After spending $225 million to provide 850,000 laptops across the country, it was hoped that test scores in basic education, such as math and literacy, would improve."

    What kind of screwball world view does one have to have to think that giving someone a computer will increase their basic test scores?

    Giving someone a computer has very little, if anything, to do with increasing someone's math or literacy skills, and may contribute to reducing those skills due to time spent persuing other computer-related activities.

    I scored 99% in math skills in the the 8th grade, and personal computers hadn't been invented yet.

    When my 21 y/o daughter showed up in her high school Algebra class, she was the only one in the class who didn't have a calculator. The other kids said, "How can you do math without a calculator?" to which my daughter responded, "What do you need a calculator for to do math?" She's not a math wiz, btw, English and communications are her strengths.
    • Improve test scores was not a goal of the project

      What we expected and did happen is ability to learn would increase. The study found cognitive skills improved (4.8 to 6 months advantage of control group over 15 months).
      The study showed your estimate of scores reduction did not happen.
  • Improve test scores does not equals improving education

    I find this article more balanced than ohers I've read. Just a couple of comments:
    1. The IADB study reports three major findings: Dramatic improvement in ICT access and basic ICT skills (like use of word processing and others); no improvement in Math and Language test scores; and moderate improvement in cognitive skills. It is important to stress, improvement of test scores was not one of the project's objectives because we knew we lacked well educated teachers (not a matter of training) and it seems there is no way to improve scores without good teachers and in short periods of time.
    2. The study mentions the motivation towards homework or school attendance did not improve. That is different than saying motivation towards learning has not improved. There are lots of other ways of learning apart from doing homework or attending schools where 92% of teachers lack basic math skills and 62% of them does not read at elementary school level (based on a MoE census evaluation of Jan 2007)
    I hope the improved cognitive skills (5.8 months advantage after 15 months is more than moderate IMHO) will show up later in life as improved test scores once teachers' quality improves.