Effective PC per student programs go beyond hardware, IDB says

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Government-sponsored programs in Latin America that provide PCs to schoolchildren will only be effective when they consider a number of other factors that go beyond the hardware, experts from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) told BNamericas.

The bank recently released information showing "significant uncertainties" regarding the impact of large-scale programs that distribute laptops to students, and that more evaluations are needed to measure the programs' effectiveness.

So far, programs that are seen as more effective "consider other actions, such as the intensive training of teachers and availability of software and educational resources, along with the distribution of equipment. Also relevant is the commitment of school leaders and families and their participation in the process," said Eugenio Severin, a senior education specialist at IDB. "And it's key that each initiative has mechanisms for monitoring and constant evaluation."

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Other programs showing less benefit have not considered complementary actions, or those actions have been poorly executed, he added.

"The use of ICT in education must be part of a set of coordinated and rigorously implemented actions, and that isn't easy," he said. "Changes in educational outcomes are slow to be seen, especially with increasing the size of each initiative. There are projects that don't appear to produce effects in the short term, but the effects can be demonstrated over a longer period of time."

One program that seems to be doing well is in Peru, with the One Laptop per Child program to benefit rural areas, noted Samuel Berlinski, an economist in IDB's research department.

"A quantitative evaluation [was built into the Peru program] where there was a control group and an experimental group and the evaluation of the difference between the two regarding the gains of the program," he said.

"I think the emphasis is that access is important, but what matters the most is in the use of the computer, or of IT in general," Berlinski added.

To read the full interview with Berlinski and Severin, see this week's IT Perspectives, for subscribers only.