Evaluating the One Laptop Per Child Initiative in Sri Lanka


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how do we know she's learning? | image attribution at bottomThe Sri Lanka Ministry of Education (MOE) recently decided to pilot the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program by purchasing laptops from the OLPC Foundation, with funding from the World Bank, and distributing them to 1,300 students in selected primary schools throughout the country. The scheme may eventually be scaled up, depending upon the educational benefits of the pilot stage. To evaluate the impact of the OLPC scheme, we worked with the MOE to randomize the intervention across schools. In May 2009, a baseline survey of 973 students in grades 1-3, drawn across eight treatment and eight control schools, was conducted. The baseline includes surveys of the students, their families, and their schools, principals, and teachers. The laptops were distributed by the MOE to all the students in the treatment schools in November 2009. A survey of schools, teachers, principals, students and student families is planned for the end of the current school year (December 2010), and resources permitting, an endline survey will be conducted in December 2011.

The objective of the impact evaluation, which is being led by Professor Anil Deolalikar of the University of California at Riverside, is to understand the effects of the OLPC program on educational outcomes of students. Since the students are allowed to take the laptops home, it is also expected that there will be spillover effects on other family members, especially the students’ school age siblings who might be enrolled in a non-OLPC school. The study will attempt to measure these spillover effects on primary school-age siblings. The study will additionally analyze the effects of the OLPC scheme on school attendance, learning practices and processes (such as homework and other class assignments), and extracurricular and co-curricular activities, including the degree of interaction between children from different cultural backgrounds, to which the laptops can be an effective aid.

The baseline student survey included grade-specific learning assessments based on Piaget’s theory of cognitive development as well as on the mathematics syllabus and assessments administered in government primary schools. The household survey included extensive socioeconomic information.

Preliminary results from the baseline surveys show large variations in student cognition and study habits across provinces, ethnic groups, income quintiles, and parental education backgrounds. Students in schools having at least one (school) computer showed higher learning outcomes than students in schools having no computer, although this could be the result of other factors associated with a computer facility in the school. Only a before-and-after comparison of student learning outcomes across control and ‘treated’ schools (“difference in difference” estimator) will indicate the causal impact of computers on student learning and other outcomes. We hope to have the impact evaluation completed by 2011.

For more information:

Guest blogger Dr. Harsha Aturupane, a Senior Economist with the World Bank, is the Lead Education Specialist in the World Bank's office in Colombo.

Please note: Image used at the top of this blog post is used with permission of the NELC project in Sri Lanka, hosted at the University of Colombo.


Harsha Aturupane

Harsha Aturupane, Lead Economist, World Bank Group

Join the Conversation

Ed Gaible
February 03, 2010

It's an ambitious goal, assessment of the impact of OLPC on a mixed set of learning outcomes in a randomized group of pilot schools over the course essentially a one-year period. The broader approach, involving assessments of other "student stakeholders" (families, teachers, etc.) will I hope be accompanied by attention to indicators other than edu outcomes, as these will be very difficult to ascertain.

(BTW: It's unclear from your description -- at least to me -- as to whether the baseline assessment is drawn from students who will be using OLPC.)

I find troubling -- altho I need to state my ignorance of education in Sri Lanka, of the pilot and of the evaluation -- the implication that this complex evaluation might be used to determine expansion of the OLPC program. My qualms have more to do with prior activities in ICT4E in Sri Lanka as I understand them: Students already have access to broadband Internet and to school-based computer facilities in many, if not most, instances; this infrastructure is currently significantly under-used, in part as a result of limitations in program design that don't target learning outcomes. It's entirely possible, even likely from my perspective, that there are programs and program revisions that would, if enacted, cost-effectively wring substantial value in relation to learning outcomes out of these prior investments. For the Gov of SL to expand a 1:1 program (OLPC or not) without first modifying its approach to school-based computing and evaluating that approach seems (again, from a great remove) an act of poor policy and management. The current pilot and evaluation appear to have the potential to "stack the deck" in favor of just such an outcome.

April 01, 2010

Evaluating whether computers designed to encourage self-learning result in better educational outcomes is something only a bureaucrat can conceive of... Someone who needs a third party to hang its coat on.

Imagine this.. Children learn differently in oral tradition relative to slate/ paper/books tradition. Try evaluating the outcome of education in a world with books relative to the oral one using the criteria that the world of oral educators defined for success?

Won't the books-world come up short on scores of cramming? reciting? recalling? etc?, just the criteria that was the foundation stone of success?

Similarly f Deolalikar uses the criteria that worked for the non-computer based education and then found the computer screen based education creates a new set of learning outcomes, how would he compare?

Seeing the future to evaluate using the lenses of yesterday has its own pitfalls. Visionaries do not need these crutches and bureaucrats know no better than to succumb to inertia.

July 20, 2010

From where did you get this photo? Was it taken by yourself during the survey??

Michael Trucano
July 27, 2010

As the note at the bottom of Harsha's blog post above says, this photo comes courtesy of the NELC project in Sri Lanka, hosted at the University of Colombo (the link to this is above). It was provided to us by the NELC, who gave us permission to use it here. (Please let us know if you think there are any rights issues here.)

Michael Trucano
January 05, 2011

The next round of data collection is meant to happen some time this spring (2011), and we expect that some preliminary results should start to circulate by the fall.

Wayan @ OLPC News
January 05, 2011

Now that its almost a year later, would you have any updates on the OLPC Sri Lanka progress? Inquiring minds would love to know!

September 08, 2012

can we get the preliminary results from the baseline survey 2010?

Michael Trucano
September 12, 2012

I recently read a draft report from this initiative -- as soon as it has been published we'll share results from it here on the blog and post a link to the full paper.