From the ‘hare brained interventions to get people computers may not work out all that well’ department: bulletin # 475

Several nations — including Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Colombia — have used subsidized programs to get personal computers into poor households. Governments have promulgated such programs despite little credible evidence that the technology improves children’s academic performance or their behavior. Euro 200, a program administered by the Romanian Ministry of Education, gave out approximately 35,000 vouchers toward the purchase of a home computer in 2008.

The Euro 200 program met with mixed results, according to NBER researchers Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches. The voucher program boosted the likelihood of households owning a home computer by more than 50 percentage points and led to increased computer use. On one hand, children in families that received a voucher scored significantly higher on tests of computer skills and cognitive ability than their counterparts without a voucher. On the other hand, children in families that received a voucher had significantly lower school grades in math, English, and Romanian than their counterparts without vouchers. The authors conclude that “providing home computers to low-income children in Romania lowered academic achievement even while it improved their computer skills and cognitive ability.”

Home Computers and Human Capital, NBER Working Paper No. 15814, by Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches

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14 years ago

There’s a book called, “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Companion”, later renamed to “The Diamond Age”, but the former name was better. I can recommend it as a good read, (fiction of course).

Sadly, most of Nicholas Negroponte’s conclusions about computers are also fiction, but ignoring the lack of hard evidence, the man is a visionary and we need such people if we are ever to make progress. The school system is one area where some (any) improvement is desperately needed because it hasn’t progressed in a long time (and some might say it’s going backward). Even after a few mistakes and false starts, keep on trying please.

That said, improved computer skills and cognitive ability are probably worth more in the long run than grade scores so quite likely this isn’t a false start.

Kevin Rennie
14 years ago

Did “their counterparts without vouchers” include middle and upper class children who already have computers at home?

I may be forced to read this paper. My Aymaran friends will be saddened to learn that they may be wasting their time online.

14 years ago

Couldn’t agree more Jacques. I remember my grades swung pretty wildly in school depending on how good my teachers were.

The thing is here that computer skills aren’t going to teach you anything that improves your grades for one reason in particular: Most of what you learn at school is irrelevant bullshit nobody cares about.

In other words, what Tel said. Knowing how to use a wordprocessor is 1,000x more important than knowing long division or even Algebra to the vast majority of people. Even people with engineering degrees use windows calculator to do simple addition.

14 years ago

Yep, what Tel said.

If grade scores aren’t capturing cognitive ability, then this study points to a failure in the examination procedure, and/or the educational priorities of the curriculum.

14 years ago

… the single strongest predictor of educational success is the quality of the teacher …

Ahh! That explains why under both the Howard and the Rudd governments, money went into buildings rather than teaching.