OLPC programs have been praised and implemented throughout the world. However, there have been very few rigorous evaluations of such projects. As a result, there is little evidence to support or contradict the idea that owning a laptop/computer will affect a young student’s academic ability, interest in learning, or self-esteem.
By providing laptop computers to migrant students, we hope to test whether an OLPC project will affect educational outcomes of students in poor migrant schools in the outskirts of Beijing.
We selected 150 3rd grade students in 13 schools to receive intervention, and 150 students to serve as the control. Project volunteers distributed free computers the intervention students. Each student participated in a hour-long hands-on session with REAP to learn basic computer functions as well as how to use the pre-loaded CAL learning software.
The students in both the intervention and control groups were tested once at the beginning of the project and again at the conclusion. Both tests were identical in nature and measured students’ academic abilities and basic computer competencies.
Did access to computers effectively narrow the digital divide between our students? Our analyses show that after receiving computers for educational purposes, students' computer skills improved significantly, with a standard deviation of 0.32 in difference between treatment and control groups. Most notably, students without prior exposure to computers or the Internet experienced the largest improvements, with improvements in their computer skills by 0.78 and 0.41 standard deviations, respectively.
Furthermore, participants in the OLPC program benefitted in several non-academic areas. Students who received computers were 14% more likely to use computers for learning and 12% less likely to watch television. Perhaps most importantly, students who participated in computer-assisted learning scored higher on self-esteem assessments.
The program also had a small but statistically significant impact on math test scores.