World Bank Economist Felipe Barrera-Osorio, working with Leigh Linden of Columbia University, has just published a very useful and rigorous study on the impact of ICT use in Colombia.
The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Colombia (PDF) looked at 97 schools and 5,201 children over two years of participation in the Computers for Schools program.
While some readers may immediately latch onto the finding that the program "had little effect on students’ test scores", I found the potential explanation for this lack of positive impact to be even more valuable:
"The main reason for these results seems to be the failure to incorporate the computers into the educational process. Although the program increased the number of computers in the treatment schools and provided training to the teachers on how to use the computers in their classrooms, surveys of both teachers and students suggest that teachers did not incorporate the computers into their curriculum."
This points to a fundamental paradox in many, if not most, large scale roll-outs of computers in schools in developing countries: one of the primary rationales for their purchase and deployment is to bring about improvements in student test scores in core subjects, yet in practice they are typically used for basic 'computer instruction'.
This is the first in what is hoped to be a series of rigorous analytical studies sponsored by the World Bank examining the impact of ICT use in education in various ways.
Note: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.