Computers in the (Indian) classroom

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Some of my previous posts (see here and here) raised doubts about the value of spending gobs of money to introduce computers into classrooms in the developing world. A new study from the Poverty Action Lab at MIT provides some additional insight on exactly this question. Leigh Linden, the author of Complement or Substitute? The Effect of Technology on Student Achievement in India, offers up some truly useful information by asking a better question than others have asked - namely, not whether computers improve learning on average but rather in what context and for whom they improve learning.

Employing a pair of randomized evaluations of computer use in classrooms in Gujarat, India, Linden found that computers improve learning outcomes when they are used as a complement to the normal curriculum, rather than as a replacement for the standard offering. He also found that the weakest students benefitted most, as the computers allowed for further practice of material already covered in the classroom. Finally, Linden also found that the computers were about as cost-effective an intervention as girls scholarship programs, cash incentives for teachers, and textbooks.

These results seem almost too commonsensical to have required the expense of randomized evaluations, but I think it's important to remember claims that have been made that programs like OLPC would completely revolutionize the classroom. It seems that technology can bring improvements, but they are incremental and not revolutionary.

Update: I should add that Linden's study was funded by infoDev, which houses an impressive collection of literature on ICT and education. Thanks to Ana Carrasco for alerting me to this.


Ryan Hahn

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