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Let Us Discuss Results from a Randomized Control Trial of OLPC in Peru

Wayan Vota

In 2007, Peru announced it would distribute tens of thousands of XO laptops from One Laptop Per Child to children in rural schools across the country, and expanded the program every year since. Almost 1 million laptops later, the program is now the largest XO deployment in the world and one of the most faithful to OLPC’s technology-centric Constructionist principals.

Teacher training was downplayed, with the belief that exposure to XO laptops alone would create a learning environment where children were excited and inspired to learn learning. Rather than developing relevant digital content, the focus was on how to use existing “Activities” (software applications) on the XO laptop to teach different subjects.

This was a radical change from existing ICT4E best practices, which tend to focus on teacher professional development and locally relevant content as equal or greater in importance than hardware, and invited close evaluation. The Inter-American Development Bank responded with a multi-year randomized evaluation of the impact of the OLPC project in Peru – the first rigorous attempt to examine the impact of the largest “1-to-1 computing” initiative in a developing country.

Results to Date

So far, the IDB has issued two synopsis examining the academic achievement and impacts on cognitive skills that XO laptops facilitated in a 15-month randomized control trial with 21,000 students in 319 schools – an initial report in 2010, and a second report earlier this year. The summary findings should not be a surprise to EduTechDebate readers:

The effective implementation of the “One Laptop per Child” program was not enough to overcome the difficulties of a design that places its trust in the role of technologies themselves. The use of technologies in education is not a magic and rapid solution through which educational problems and challenges can be solved with the simple acquisition of technological devices and systems.

The IDB did find some positive and significant results in cognitive ability – a five-month lead over non-XO students – but no overall significant differences were found on Mathematics and Language standardized tests 15 months after the implementation.

What Does This Mean for ICT4E?

We took a deep dive into OLPC in Peru with the Inter-American Development Bank during a Technology Salon to figure out what these results mean for OLPC in Peru, “one laptop per child” projects regardless of technology, and ICT in education in general.

In the discussion, several good questions came up in relation to this study on OLPC in Peru that we should all think about.

Since IDB did not find remarkable educational outcomes from OLPC:

  1. Do any ICT interventions have impact? Or are we all just wasting our time with technology?
  2. Do we actually know how to measure the impact of ICT on education? Or are we testing the wrong things to see impact?
  3. Can any single intervention have impact? Or do we need to have more interventions over longer timeframes for impact?
  4. Are all laptop programs doomed? Or was Peru’s approach itself the problem?

During this month’s Educational Technology Debate, distinguished members of the ICT4E community from around the world will give context to the report and expand on these and other questions the report raises.

Your context and input is welcome in the comments on this and every post, and if you find yourself writing a multi-page essay answer to a comment, consider submitting it as a Guest Post instead – email it to us and we’ll make sure it’s seen by everyone.

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13 Responses to “Let Us Discuss Results from a Randomized Control Trial of OLPC in Peru”

  1. It would be good to have the documents of the OLPC project, to have a sound understanding about what was assesed and how the computers an teaching processes have been installed into the school communities. So far, the data shown just allows me to think about the planing aspects of the project, wich use to be narrow in our countries (developing countries). So, having that data, i'll enjoy to discuss the results you show.

    Greetings from Chile, and thanks for proposing this discussion.

  2. I think the questions are related to the use of technologies in itself and in the processes which are submerged. So you have the paper and pencil (technology of the written word) and information technology (computadras and Internet) mism coexisting in space and time within a process that is the same: a class exhibition. Then, from a pragmatic world view, and measure impacts requiring the use of a technology (computers and the Internet) we find that there are none. And that does not require further analysis or further questioning. Not changed the formal learning process, the administrative structure that supports the school, much less the way they train the teachers. As mentioned in the document I cite in this post, we live the paradox of productivity and be like until you reconfigure the Peruvian educational system as a whole. I mentioned that as Americans (and Europeans) a redefinition of the Peruvian national education system.
    But thank God this is not just unique to Peru. Worldwide still do not have much clarity on what to do with computers and the Internet in education.

    Office of Educational Technology, U. S. D. of E. (2010). Learning powered by technololgy. Transforming American Education (Draft., Vols. 1-2, Vol. 1). Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/sites/default/files/NETP-2010-f

    • Hi Manuel, your comments make me recall a thought that Wayan has shared before – that putting ICTs into a traditional classroom can have the effect of merely re-enforcing traditional methods unless there is a concerted effort first to also change pedagogy. Seems pretty logical and simple really, but so often gets missed. That may be an even more meta-question Wayan than the 4 you posed above (though they are pretty essential) – Why does ICT deployment after ICT deployment default to the easy option of hardware delivery only?

      • BeCauseWeCanBe

        Because it is just that – easy. And because education is a public service mostly for which the optics for the politicians and ambitious administrators who oversee the procurement driving the "transformation of education" are much better with shiny green n white OLPCs in the background (they make for marvelous pictures, don't they?).

      • In principle, the concepts I put forward in my previous post provien several readings including those cited above, so it's a fact that may be matches to the post of Wayan, needless to say, since 1970 in the United States North America investigates the use of information technology in education.

        In the second place, the answer is simple, the issue lies in the conception of the authorities to deploy information technology in education. It is a fact that the thought that guides these efforts are only economic and social but not teaching.

        / / The literature reports three main types of rationalities that guide the introduction of ICTs in school systems: a rational economic, social and one a rational education. According to the economic rational, ICT in education are necessary for students to develop the skills of ICT skills that will be demanded in the workplace, which in turn will enable countries to improve the competitiveness of their workers, their business and economy … On the other hand, according to social rational, there is a political imperative to provide all students, from all social sectors of a country, the skills to use ICT and to enable them participate in the opportunities offered by modern society, more and more immersed in the digital world. According to this argument the school has a key role in reducing the digital divide within countries. Finally, as the rational education, ICT in schools have come to support the improvement of education, especially within the classroom, where they are seen as an excellent means to enrich, enhance and even transform the teaching and learning. (Valdivia Jara, 2008, p. 17) / /

        Jara Valdivia, I. (2008). Las políticas de tecnología para escuelas en América Latina y el mundo: visiones y lecciones. Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL). Retrieved fro mhttp://www.eclac.org/ddpe/publicaciones/xml/8/34938/W214.pdf

        If my country had prevailed the pedagogical approach to acquire the XO laptops they had not acquired for the reasons we all know and the conditions that are known in Peru since 1986….

  3. I heard years ago from a Professor in Education that if you use ICT in a classroom as teacher it can take up to 4 times longer to prepare for a lesson! So this can mean that shoehorning IT into a traditional pedagogy is simply impossible, or that new pedagogies are not mature/refined enough to use ICT "efficiently"?

    • Hi Mario! It's for sure that when you begin with, using ICT in classroom will take more time. Indeed, integrating ICT in classroom has two folds : technical one and essentially pedagogical one. You have to take into account the fact, that instead filling one bag (preparing traditional courses where you got training in due faculty or school), you face the challenge to feed two bags with two objects and mix up them to get the learners in the game!

      This is the main evolution when you want to integrate ICT in classroom. But definitively, teaching relies heavily on pedagogical skills. Indeed ICT can help, but before being currently useful, one needs to learn how to turn it in this way! If you agree with this metaphor, just try to give response to each of the following questions :

      1. Will students learn better? When

      a) content involves demonstrations/processes that students cannot see elsewhere;
      b) acceptable materials for self-learning are not readily available;
      c) students would profit from repetition.

      2. Will I (teacher N.D.L.R) save time? When

      a) teaching content is repeated frequently
      b) content is fixed (will not require frequent revision)

      (Dixit Prof. Cary Engleberg, M.D., Professor of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School)

      Let's quoted the answer of Prof. Engleberg :

      If “yes” to any of these, then proceed with an instructional design.

      And I agree with him about your question Mario. In fact, I'm teaching mathematics at University Abdou Moumouni of Niamey in Niger (West Africa). Since 2007,I have all my courses on a learning Management System (LMS), for instance Moodle (www.musatesa.net). I worked hard and took two years to experiment ans stabilize the actual form. But, since there, I have just to make minors revision and enrolled new students! That's the folk!

      All the best

  4. I would also like to have the documents of the OLPC project… But in my opinion, we are just wasting our time with technology.

  5. education_south

    When the full report will be available, maybee we could learn more than a 4 pages paper and then discuss

  6. education_south

    the report that "you published" so is it a fu.k Olpc News report ???

  7. I recall posting for this site a few years ago, discussing how to best integrate technology into the classroom. In a meeting that I had with reps from the OLPC "headquarters", it was always made clear to me that the OLPC initiative was a social transformation one and not an education-oriented initiative. For the OLPC folks, education was the distribution channel and whatever evolved from the introduction of the OLPC laptop was up to the educators to "figure out". That being said and having been involved with technology in education for over 14 years in public education, the "debate" on the merits of IT in Education has gone around the world more often than the space station! I spend my time talking to teachers who have done exemplary work with technology in the classroom and note the significant improvement in results, attitudes and motivation. But then again, as researchers have pointed out to me, "We know that it works in the classroom, but does it work in theory?"
    In my current position as the Chief Executive Officer for the Canadian Education Association, we focus on the issue of intellectual engagement and the results of this research measuring over 67, 000 Canadian high school students says it best: Less than half of Canadian high school students feel intellectually engaged in their studies and only 33% feel motivated. So, if we insist on debating that technology has no measurable effect, then please do not suggest that the current system is much better. http://www.cea-ace.ca Research entitled What Did You Do In School Today? These findings have even helped Sir Ken Robinson present further evidence of the need to change our education systems, plain and simple.


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