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.

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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

HD Program Leader for Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal World Bank Group

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