Are Underprivileged Students Better Off Without Computers?

 We take it for granted that computers have tremendous potential to transform education. According to new research that focused on computer adoption among the poor in one Eastern European country, computers at home can actually help to lower the grade point averages of students, distract students from homework, and potentially contribute to behavioral issues.

 We find evidence indicating that children who won a voucher (to gain a computer) had lower school grades.

In the case of  the Romanian program, subsidies were provided for the purchase of home computers. The Ministry of Education did provide access to educational software. According to the researchers, few children installed educational software on their computers, and fewer still reported actually using that educational software.

The possibility that home computer use might displace more valuable developmental activities is a real concern. The researchers concluded that the role of the parent in “shaping the impact of home computer use on child and adolescent outcomes” is an important factor that needs to be addressed in programs aimed at bringing technology to underprivileged youth.

“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.”

Is this  something that needs to be considered in light of the one laptop per child  program?

I am sure that many educators would agree they would rather see children with computers than without.  Using the tools to gain in learning is the goal.  Liaison between school and parents, and using the tools effectively at school will assist in ensuring that they are not misused in the home environment.

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