Technology in education is an area of increasing interest for policy makers and researchers, given their potential to increase abilities and achievement. Within this field, the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program has been an important program in developing countries. Their mission: "We aim to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together..." (http://one.laptop.org/about/mission on June 29, 2012). In this study we evaluate the impact of the OLPC program in poor, rural schools in Peru, where little access to computers existed.
A randomized control trial evaluation of the use and impact of OLPC laptops was used in this study. This included 209 treatment primary rural schools in Peru, contrasted against 110 control schools. The design includes baseline information (end of 2008 school year), and measurements at the end of the 2009 and 2010 school years. Laptops were distributed to treatment schools by mid 2009. The main results come from data collected at the end of the 2010 school year, 15 months or more after laptop distribution. The final sample consisted of 318 schools and 3,142 students in three grades. The data analyzed included potentially mediating variables (e.g. use of laptops at school) and outcome variables (e.g. scores in cognitive abilities test and achievement in mathematics and reading). We administered surveys and tests to teachers and students, open-ended interviews to teachers on laptop use, and standardized observations of use of laptops in classrooms.
We found that the laptops had been distributed to almost all treatment schools and only a few controls. Within treatment, laptops were received positively and teachers trained, but mostly on how to operate them. Students knew how to use several features of the laptop. Teachers used the laptops in classrooms but often times only for non-challenging tasks, such as copying a text from the blackboard onto the laptop. Regarding the final outcomes, laptops had a significant impact (p<0.1) on the Raven Colored Progressive Matrices tests, which measures cognitive abilities, and no effects on reading achievement or comprehension.