Open Source

PC is not a good educator

The SLATE Magazine reports the study, The Effect of Computer Use on Child Outcomes (study report, PDF), looking at the program of the Government of Romania where low-income families were given vouchers to purchase PCs.

From some part, I agree with the interpretations presented in the study. My final conclusions would anyway be somehow different. Here are some quotations from the conclusions of the study:

“We find that children who won a voucher spent significantly less time watching television and doing homework. Moreover, the effect on homework appears to have had real consequences for school performance. We find evidence indicating that children who won a voucher had lower school grades. Parents reported that these children had a significantly lower expectation of going to college. Finally, we also find suggestive evidence that winning a voucher is associated with negative behavioral outcomes.”

“These findings indicate that providing home computers to low-income children in Romania led them to experience worse outcomes.”

“…our analysis brings out the important role of parents in shaping the impact of home computer use on child and adolescent outcomes. We find that in families where mothers stay at home and where parents have rules regarding computer use, the negative effects of winning a voucher are greatly reduced. Thus, our findings suggest caution regarding the broader impact of home computers on child outcomes. They also raise questions about the usefulness of recent large-scale efforts to increase computer access for disadvantaged children around the world without paying sufficient attention to how parental oversight affects a child’s computer use.”

I agree with the conclusion that using computers efficiently for educational purposes children needs adults. Actually, children can not constructively achieve any higher-level cognitive skills just on their own, or with peer-support.

I wouldn’t, however, ask for “parental oversight” or promote “mothers at home” to achieve the badly needed adult guidance. There are other options, too. I wonder if the researchers have ever heard about teachers – those professional educators who work with children?

One simple solution to guarantee adult supervision is simply to keep the computers (laptops) inside schools, use them mainly in there and let children to take them at home only when there is study work to be done with them.

My conclusions: Everybody planning to dump PCs/laptops to the hands of the children should probably step back and think about teachers.

The questions is: how teachers will be capable to supervise the use of computers in education.

Finally, I think the OLPCs XO with the Sugar is probably the best educational PC in the market. Not because it would be great, but because it is least disturbing technology.

Sugar is not a tool for playing computer games or for watching Britney videos from Youtube. The Sugar is actually full of pretty serious educational stuff, although lacking tools for collaborative knowledge building. These tools can be there one day.

Following this, I am shocked – if it is true what is widely reported – that many Ministries of Education around the world have asked to have Windows in the XO, and have said that they will have them only when they run Windows.

I can’t help to think that this is a result of two things in the ministries: (1) lack of education and (2) corruption. It’s a sad world.

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