There are "significant uncertainties" regarding the impact of large-scale programs that distribute laptops to students, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said in comments on a study in Latin America, and more evaluations are needed to measure the programs' effectiveness.
Unless teacher training and educational software accompany such programs, putting more PCs in schools "will do little to improve the quality of education in Latin America and the Caribbean," according to an IDB release.
In fact, employing ICT in education can be "very costly and may crowd out important alternative programs with relatively higher returns," said Alberto Chong, who coordinated the study. "Countries cannot expect that learning will improve with simply greater access to computers. Quality of use is crucial."
The findings are detailed in the book "Development Connections: Unveiling the Impact of New Information Technologies," to be released next month. The book analyzes 46 development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean in six different areas: finance, health, institutions, education, poverty and the environment.
Random control trials in education projects throughout Latin America found that 14% of the projects in the sample strongly benefitted from adopting computers and other ICT tools in classrooms, while partial benefits were detected in 57% and 29% benefitted minimally.
In turn, the study found that providing student computer training 1-2 hours a week - with costs of US$23 per student to set up and maintain a computer lab, versus US$217 per student for providing one PC per child - has had positive impacts on learning and employment opportunities.