Which gives more bang for the buck, deworming or OLPC?

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A recent article by Timothy Ogden (Computer Error?) provides a pretty clear answer: forget the glitzy computers, and put your scarce resources into the provision of deworming pills. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program provides computers at around $200 a pop, while deworming pills cost between 50 cents and 4 dollars per student per year. All the control trials of computers in classrooms have given—at best—ambiguous results. But the available studies of deworming pills suggest improvements in student attendance in the range of 20-25 percent. I'm glad to see this argument get some publicity since I've been expressing skepticism of the OLPC program for some time.

Perhaps it is a stretch, but I see an analogy with the growing debate around microfinance. Just as Yunus is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, more and more studies are casting doubt on the benefits of microlending. (Just to be clear, most of the studies look only at microlending, while microfinance encompasses a wider range of services, e.g. savings, insurance, etc.) So perhaps we need a rule that the more celebrity status a development initiative gets, the more skeptical we should be. 

(Hat tip: Michael Trucano)

Update: Allana Shaikh over at UN Dispatch reiterates the point: "It’s time to call a spade a spade. OLPC was a failure."


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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