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The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Colombia

Michael Trucano's picture

super random sampling or random supersampling? you be the judgeWorld 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.

Comments

Submitted by Alan Foo on
"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." ... and the failure to incorporate is actually the wrong use of technology to be used in Education in mass Education. yes, in the end many schools , including many found in other countries like Malaysia where one O-level student when asked, answered that he never had the chance to use computers in his entire school life. .. the reason? The school lab was/and still is always locked... for lack of contents suitable for schools subjects. They cant be teaching Windows paintbrush year in and out can they? Yet Malaysia spent a lot of money for such contents. What went wrong? Trying to use latest technology for education will face lots of challenges when in real classrooms environment. Trying to use rich men's tools for the poor guys will never work. Alan www.paperlesshomework.com

Submitted by Robin Gupta on
I think computer education has both good and bad effects. The more we depand on computers the less we use mind. I remember myself being sharp at mathematics in my childhood and now a days i Use computers and i fumble when computers are not there. If i was given computer education in my childhood things would have been different, we just used to mug for exams rather then learn but it was good to get marks and not learn. today computers are doing a good job, when we see africa, we can see it in google earth and see pics. earlier it was text based. Jitendra Jain http://www.computereducation.co.in

Submitted by e-okul on
Yes, in the end many schools, including many found in other countries like Malaysia ,where one O-level student, when asked, answered that he never had the chance to use computers in his entire school life. The reason? The school lab was/and still is always locked ... for lack of contents suitable for schools subjects. They can't be teaching Windows paintbrush year in and out can they? Yet Malaysia spent a lot of money for such contents. What went wrong?Nice article, very helpful. Thanks!!

Submitted by Anonymous on
Is there some threshold that must be overcome in order to see an improvement? Apparently, there is no linear advantage, i.e., use a computer a little and see a little improvement-- use it a lot and see a lot. When a system fails it is because it was not used enough or in the right way. What is the right way? How much must it be used. 100% total immersion? I think that if a kid can learn the traditional way chances are the kid is likely to be able to learn with computers and if he can not learn the traditional way then chances are he cannot learn with computers. I have yet to see any proof (and it may be impossible to prove) that computers are better than traditional methods. It may be a little like saying how much did blackboards and chalk improve education? Computers are just tools. But are they cost effective? Nobody has answered that question.

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