Yet five years in, there are serious doubts about whether the largest single deployment in the One Laptop Per Child ……was worth the more than $200 million that Peru’s government spent.
Ill-prepared rural teachers and administrators were too often unable to fathom much less teach with the machines, software bugs didn’t get fixed, Internet access was almost universally absent and cultural disconnects kept kids from benefitting from the machines.
“In essence, what we did was deliver the computers without preparing the teachers,” said Sandro Marcone, the Peruvian education official who now runs the program.
He believes the missteps may have actually widened the gap between children able to benefit from the computers and those ill-equipped to do so, he says, in a country whose public education system is rated among the world’s most deficient.
….OLPC laptops, which are rugged and energy efficient and run an open-source variant of the Linux operating system, are in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mongolia and Haiti, and even in the United States and Australia. Uruguay, a compact South American nation of 3.5 million people, is the only country that has fully embraced the concept and given every elementary school child and teacher an XO laptop, as the machines are called. No country, however, bought nearly as many as Peru.
“It’s a really great idea,” said Jeff Patzer, a software engineer with a degree from the University of California at Berkeley ……. “It’s just seems like there was some stuff that wasn’t thought through quite enough.”
….”There is little solid evidence regarding the effectiveness of this program,” they said in a study sharply critical of the overall OLPC initiative that was based on a 15-month study at 319 schools in small, rural Peruvian communities that got laptops……”The magical thinking that mere technology is enough to spur change, to improve learning, is what this study categorically disproves,” co-author Eugenio Severin of Chile told The Associated Press…..The study found no increased math or language skills, no improvement in classroom instruction quality, no boost in time spent on homework, no improvement in reading habits.
…..On the positive side, the “dramatic increase in access to computers” accelerated by about six months students’ abstract reasoning, verbal fluency and speed in processing information, the report said.
…A study in Ethiopian schools by Dutch researchers from the University of Groningen, published last year in the journal Computers and Education, similarly found that OLPC laptops improved abstract reasoning.
The teachers in those schools had received extensive training in the laptops, which the researchers said introduced an “information-rich novelty” into an environment previously starved for learning material…..