Last month I wrote a post called OLPC smackdown, for which I received a number of critical comments. The item pointed to an article by Jon Evans in The Walrus Magazine criticizing the One Laptop Per Child program. Commentor Osimod thought the article wasn't even worth discussing: "I was never really convinced by OLPC, but that article is so *superficial* that I don't think it's worth publicizing it." I'll grant that the article was a superficial analysis, although I still think it brought up some valid points. (And I just pointed to the article - you should see the reaction that Jon Evans got!)
But if you're looking for rigorous analysis, I'm glad to oblige. A new working paper on The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education looks at the results of a randomized evaluation of the use of computers in classrooms in Colombia. (I should note that the computers in this particular evaluation were not provided by OLPC, but the evaluation should still tell us something about the utility of computers in the classroom.) The results were underwhelming, to say the least:
There are three main conclusions of this evaluation. First, the program successfully increases the number of computers in the school (by 15 computers) and increases students’ use of the computers. Second, despite this success, the program has little impact on students’ math and Spanish test scores. The program also has little effect on a host of other academic variables including hours of study, perceptions of school, and relationships with their peers. The reason seems to be that despite the program’s focus on using the computers for teaching students in a range of subjects (but especially Spanish), the computers were only used to teach the students computer usage skills. The evidence suggests that students use of the computers for their intended purpose was limited -- only 3 to 4 percent of the students in both treatment and control groups reported to use the computers in the language class for example.