Mixed grades for Peru's kids laptop program
Peru's equipping of more than 800,000 public schoolchildren in this rugged Andean nation with low-cost laptops ranks among the world's most ambitious efforts to leverage digital technology in the fight against poverty.
Yet five years in, there are serious doubts about whether the largest single deployment in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative inspired by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte was worth the more than $200 million that Peru's government spent.
Ill-prepared rural teachers and administrators were too often unable to fathom much less teach with the machines, software bugs didn't get fixed, Internet access was almost universally absent and cultural disconnects kept kids from benefitting from the machines.
"In essence, what we did was deliver the computers without preparing the teachers," said Sandro Marcone, the Peruvian education official who now runs the program.
Inter-American Development Bank researchers were less polite.
"There is little solid evidence regarding the effectiveness of this program," they said in a study sharply critical of the overall OLPC initiative that was based on a 15-month study at 319 schools in small, rural Peruvian communities that got laptops.
"The magical thinking that mere technology is enough to spur change, to improve learning, is what this study categorically disproves," co-author Eugenio Severin of Chile told The Associated Press.