When Computers Hurt Instead Of Help

Just as I suspected!

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**WHEN COMPUTERS HURT INSTEAD OF HELP

**Ray Fisman writes on the Web site Slate about why giving computers to poor children won’t necessarily help educate them.
Parents are more worried than ever about making sure their kids can compete in today’s high-tech world, and the growing digital divide is a subject of great concern for educators and policymakers. Federal subsidies in the United States provide billions of dollars for computer access in schools and libraries, and billions more may soon be spent in the developing world through programs such as One Laptop per Child. But even O.L.P.C.’s $100 laptop comes loaded with more distractions than my PET [the world’s first personal computer] ever had. So will kids use these subsidized computing resources to prepare for the demands of the 21st-century job market? Or do computers just serve as a 21st-century substitute for that more venerable time-waster—the television?

New research by economists Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches provides an answer: For many kids, computers are indeed more of a distraction than a learning opportunity. The two researchers surveyed households that applied to Euro 200, a voucher distribution program in Romania designed to help poor households defray the cost of buying a computer for their children. It turns out that kids in households lucky enough to get computer vouchers spent a lot less time watching TV — but that’s where the good news ends. “Vouchered” kids also spent less time doing homework, got lower grades and reported lower educational aspirations than the “unvouchered” kids. …

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lesson from Romania’s voucher experiment is not that computers aren’t useful learning tools, but that their usefulness relies on parents being around to assure they don’t simply become a very tempting distraction from the unpleasantness of trigonometry homework. But this is a crucial insight for those tasked with designing policies to bridge the digital divide. … If we really want to help poor kids, whether in Romania, sub-Saharan Africa, or America’s housing projects, we may want to focus on approaches that provide structured, supervised access through after-school programs or subsidies that bring technology into low-income schools. But just giving kids computers? Might as well just ship them PlayStations.

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