About those computers Kevin was organising . . .

The Effects of Home Computers on Educational Outcomes. Evidence from a Field Experiment with Schoolchildren
Date: 2011-09
By: Robert Fairlie (Department of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz)
Jonathan Robinson (Department of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz)
URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:net:wpaper:1114&r=exp
Are home computers are an important input in the educational production function? To address this question, we conduct a field experiment involving the provision of free computers to schoolchildren for home use. Low-income children attending middle and high schools in 15 schools in California were randomly selected to receive free computers and followed over the school year. The results indicate that the experiment substantially increased computer ownership and total computer use among the schoolchildren with no substitution away from use at school or other locations outside the home. We find no evidence that the home computers improved educational outcomes for the treatment group. From detailed administrative data provided by the schools and a follow-up survey, we find no evidence of positive effects on a comprehensive set of outcomes such as grades, test scores, credits, attendance, school enrollment, computer skills, and college aspirations. The estimates also do not indicate that the effects of home computers on educational outcomes are instead negative. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The lack of a positive net effect on educational outcomes may be due to displacement from non-educational uses such as for games, social networking, and entertainment. We find evidence that total hours of computer use for games and social networking increases substantially with having a home computer, and increases more than total hours of computer use for schoolwork.

12 thoughts on “About those computers Kevin was organising . . .

  1. They should have asked the parents. I’m sure they would have been happier — computers are far cheaper and potentially more engrossing than a baby sitter.

  2. This looks like a study that I saw a couple of years ago, this one apparently reports that there was no positive or negative effect but the one I recall claimed a negative effect in most cases but a positive effect where the parents maintained control over the use of the computers (that is to say, school work first). I mentioned this in a blog post somewhere (as a fairly predictable result) but lost the link.

    If that result was valid then the positive result presumably reflects the attitude of the parents towards school work generally, rather than the actual use of the computer.

    It demonstrates that the education revolution that we need does not involve a lot of money, it calls for a partnership between parents and teachers to promote the right attitude to education and good study habits.

  3. The Californian study is not really about the difference between having access to computers or not having access to computers, it’s about the difference between computers in the schools (i.e. public ownership of capital equipment) vs computers in the homes (i.e. private ownership of capital equipment). When one of the collaborators in the study is “ZeroDivide” and I quote from their mission statement:

    We believe that the digital divide is part of the set of social, economic, political and cultural divides that separate the haves from the have-nots. “ZeroDivide” is a concept to describe the aspirational goal of bridging not just the digital divide, but all of these divides. Achieving a ZeroDivide characterizes both our vision and our mission.

    Not too difficult to imagine those guys concluding that public ownership is the way to go. The other collaborators were “Computers for Classrooms, Inc.” and I didn’t bother checking but I’d take a guess they are in favour of getting computers into the classrooms (call it a hunch).

    I’d like to point out the significant contrast with the OLPC Australia efforts where they are:

    [1] Putting computers into the hands of much younger kids.

    [2] Working in very remote communities and harsh conditions (for a computer).

    [3] Really do represent the difference between access to a computer and no access to a computer.

    [4] Run their own custom software specifically intended to stimulate young kid’s interest in learning.

    I had a tinker around with one of the OLPC machines at a computer show and I liked the screen and case design, didn’t think much of their educational software. On the other hand, I’m looking at it from the perspective of an adult with a lifetime experience in the computer industry, I don’t even pretend to see what a 4 year old or 5 year old might see.

    For whatever reason OLPC decided that private ownership was a superior model, and they promise “Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has been engaged to conduct a comprehensive evaluation” so I look forward to reading that.

  4. KB, true enough, but the whole thing was a cargo cult exercise. And to think, would it have really made a difference if the ALP had put some effort into coming up with something that was tailored to the circumstances of specific schools. Same could be said of the ALP’s ‘early childhood’ push where the majority of funding went to early kinder for everyone rather than targeted programs at at risk kids.

  5. I think the problem for the ALP was that Kruddy went around saying “educaction revolution, education revolution,… etc.”, and so they were essentially forced to do something in a short amount of time. However, when it actually came to work out something to do, it seems pretty clear they didn’t have any good ideas that would impress the public in the short/medium term (I can just imagine being one of the top bureaucrats and being told to “think of something or else”). This is of course no surprise, since most things that occur before university of course happen at the State level, and so there isn’t much they could have done (indeed I doubt there really are any quick fixes likely to have any great efficacy in NSW or VIC at least — so even if they could do something at the State level easily, it would still be rather hard). In the longer term, they also don’t appear to have any ideas either, and so now we have the awful move whereby they want to create a national curriculum (which fortunately NSW and VIC are resisting). I guess this means someone will be able to implement a quick fix/education revolution in the future, since they will be able to give up on the national curriculum.

  6. Having access to a computer while at school taught me an awful lot about the effects of the shotgun on Hell’s minions, and resultingly/concurrently was a great father-son bonding exercise.

  7. If kids aren’t going to learn how to use a digital interface one way or another they are going to be reasonably f**ked.

    However, I suspect that computers in schools would be unlikely to do this usefully.

  8. On a related and depressing note. The booklist for prep this year includes a calculator. Grade 2 also. WTF?

    You can’t blame the pollies for offering magic puddings in the face of uncritical acceptance.

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