Computers in Low-income Households = Little or No Educational Benefit?

Here’s an article with a generalization that goes against the grain of everything most educators believe about access to computers for children from low-income homes. Randall Stross, in “Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality“* (New York Times, 7.9.10), says that studies by economists indicate “little or no educational benefit” is gained.

Stross writes, “Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.”

Stross’s generalization is based on the following studies:

1. Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches, “Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital” (University of Chicago and NBER Columbia University, BREAD, NBER, January 2010).

2. Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd, “Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement” (NBER, June 2010).

3. “Evaluation of the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot: Final Outcomes for a Four-Year Study (2004-05 to 2007-08)” (Texas Center for Educational Research, January 2009).

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* Click here for the Webcite version of “Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality.”

One Response

  1. The results come from such strong logic that you have to wonder why the study had to be done at all. You find the answer in the strong belief that we have to overcome the digital divide and that doing so will improve academic performance.

    The latter conclusion lies exposed as false. Just suppose that these same students had been assigned homework that must be completed on the computers. How would the results have changed? Left to select any activity on a computer, which pre-teen would not have chosen games and social activities? Given direction and being required to use the computer for learning, might the computer-users and the controls have had similar academic results? We cannot say, but, if so, then the computers would have edge because of increased computer skills.

    The futility of attempting to block access should also have been obvious. Such blocks actually forced the students to learn more about using computers, an interesting and apparently unexpected side effect.

    What about physical activity? Did these students’ health suffer because they chose to sit at a computer instead of going outdoors to play active games?

    While the study answers one question, it leaves many more unanswered. Let’s hope that someone seeks these additional answers.

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