Slate posted an interesting article on the effects of providing computers to low income kids. Citing a study of Romanian households who had received government vouchers for low-cost computers, it is apparent that without adult guidance and supervision, computers are one heck of a distraction for kids. There's a result I wouldn't have expected.
Despite the fairly obvious conclusion of the research, the article was worth a read for a few reasons. First of all, the study was remarkably well-designed to eliminate bias in the results caused by differing socioeconomic factors. The Romanian families who received vouchers made $16-17 per month, per household member. The "control group" made only $18-19 per month, providing very reasonable comparisons.
The study is also worth our attention since so many OLPC-style government programs (in contrast to programs proposed by Intel and AMD) seek to provide computers to kids outside of a traditional classroom setting, in the hopes that they will put the computers to the best use possible and reach new levels of achievement. Unfortunately, what the study found is that kids in situations like this ended up with lower grades, fewer college aspirations, and more sleep deprivation when provided with computers compared to those without regular access to a computer at home.
Perhaps the most telling finding, however, was that kids who had received these vouchers and who also had a stay-at-home parent who could monitor computer usage were statistically indistinguishable from the kids without computer vouchers. Data like these don't mean that we should kill programs that put computers into kids hands. What they do suggest, however, is that kids are better served using the computers in a structured environment where they are less of a distraction and more of a learning tool.