Putting more computers in schools will do little to improve the quality of education in Latin America and the Caribbean unless countries invest in teacher training and educational software, according to a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In spite of a recent flurry of high-quality research on the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on education, significant uncertainty still remains about the effectiveness of these interventions in improving learning, especially in the case of very visible initiatives, such as providing computers for every child.
“Using ICTs in education can be very costly and may crowd out important alternative programs with relatively higher returns,” said Alberto Chong, who coordinated the study. “It is vital for governments to conduct careful evaluations of these initiatives and, particularly, to budget enough resources to train teachers and develop adequate software for students. 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, which will be launched next month. The book analyzes to what degree ICTs contributed to the success of 46 development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean in six different areas: finance, health, institutions, education, poverty and the environment. The study is the first in this region to apply strict statistical methods in a systematic way to measure how information technologies affected socio-economic outcomes.
Researchers conducted randomized control trials in several education projects throughout the region and found that only 14 percent of the projects in the sample strongly benefitted from the adoption of computers and other information and communication technology tools in classrooms. Partial benefits were detected in 57 percent of the projects and 29 percent benefitted minimally from having these tools available to students in classrooms.
Through a review of the existing literature and evaluation of ongoing projects in the region, the study has drawn the following lessons learned about the use of computers in the region’s schools:
Laptops for students to use at school and at home
Computer use at schools