Poor kids in the developing world given laptops to help them
make big educational leaps may wind up doing more household
chores and reading less than children without the computers,
according to a new study in Peru.
The study, which looked at a program that gave 1000 laptops
to underprivileged primary school children in Lima, could
temper enthusiasm for investments in laptop distribution as a
path to better academic performance.
The working paper by the US-based National Bureau of Economic
Research said children may do more chores because the laptops
encourage them to spend more time at home - giving their
parents more opportunities to nag them into washing clothes
and cleaning up.
The group also said parents might be rewarding their children
with time on their laptops in exchange for completing chores.
"The largest effects of computer use seem to be associated
with playing computer games and, to some extent, with
listening to music on the computer," wrote lead author
While the authors found children spent more time on
computers, improvements in their cognitive skills were "small
They did not offer an explanation for the reported decline in
reading - which looked at the children's total daily reading
both online and offline - but said it was consistent with
The authors stressed that their findings were preliminary and
the study was not designed to evaluate the One Laptop per
Child project started by technology guru Nicholas Negroponte.
But the study used One Laptop per Child machines, and its
findings seem to contradict the initiative's key assumptions
and back critics who said it is not a magic wand.
"When every child has a connected laptop, they have in their
hands the key to full development and participation. Limits
are erased," says the website of the group, which now sells
laptops to governments in developing countries for about $200
The US-based One Laptop per Child initiative grew in part out
of the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and has sold about 2.5 million laptops to more
than a dozen countries since around 2007. The goal of the
program was to develop laptops "inexpensive enough to give to
every child in the world."
Previous research found that school children in rural Peru
who received laptops as part an One Laptop per Child
initiative did not perform any better on math and language
standardised tests, though they did show improved cognitive
skills - unlike the latest study.
The One Laptop Per Child organization has criticised those
previous findings for focusing on short-term results, as
opposed to long-term improvements the group still expects.
The organisation declined to specifically comment about the
study from the NBER.
Many countries - Peru especially - have invested heavily in
the program, though it has generated considerable debate
among local education specialists about whether it is the
best way to spend limited funds.
Peru, which puts less than 3 percent of gross domestic
product toward education each year, has spent $200 million on
about a million laptops for its nationwide program, the NBER
The NBER study looked at the habits of 2,700 children. They
compared pupils in 14 schools in Lima six months after they
received the laptops with students in 14 schools that did not