Computers in education

Back in 1087 Robert Solow quipped that “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” With the increasingly integral use of computers in schools, some researchers asked whether you can see it in the pupil achievement figures. Apparently not…

Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students like those you can now find on sale at stores like 25pc. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.

Note that they only gave computers to children, they didn’t then change lessons and teaching to take advantage of them. Consequently, the message is more that computers alone are not enough, rather than suggesting the computers won’t help.

7 replies
    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      Trust me, to write the quantity and quality that Solow does you need to have been writing for at least 926 years. I’m more surprised about the fact that he had foresight about modern computers in 1087.

  1. boristhefrog
    boristhefrog says:

    I’m surprised that William the Conquerer didn’t finger Solow to do something about the Doomsday Book – that might have upped the productivity of the medieval tax collectors…. although on second thought….

    Anyway I’m pretty sure it was 1987 that Solow made his comments, but to be fair that was some years before Windows was inflicted on the world and we had the cool tools we have today – what would be interesting is another look at the productivity of computers/smartphones etc given the stuff we can do now…

    Apart from play Candy (fecking) Crush Saga that is!

  2. samoro
    samoro says:

    i think that now the computer is the education and no one can imagine how to study without the computer

  3. Gregor W
    Gregor W says:

    Worth pointing out that Solows quip was very much throwaway and not bases on any evidence.

    Despite this it has been treated as an axiom since, though the premise has recently been fairly well debunked with much more detailed analysis performed of ICT capex contribution to productivity as a proportion of capital investment from 1998-2006 in the G7 (Jorgenson & Khuoung, 2010)

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