Computers Can Hurt Kids' Education

Home computers were supposed to be a lifeline for poor children. Remember the One Laptop Per Child project? The idea behind that program, and the millions of dollars that have been pumped into computer equipment for disadvantaged kids here in the States, is that access to a computer at home would help poor kids catch up academically to their more affluent peers.

Turns out, that’s not the case. In fact, having a home computer can hurt academic achievement. But only for low-income students. Exactly the kids who were supposed to be helped by having one.

There’s an obvious logic there. Think about what your kids do with their computers. Research interesting academic subjects? Bone up on their math skills? Read the classics on the Gutenberg Project? Yeah, right. They play games. They chat with their friends. They do all the unproductive, time-wasting crap we do with our computers. But more of it.

For kids from low-income households, the distraction factors apparently outweigh the benefits of having home computer access.

Low-income kids in a North Carolina study saw their math and reading test scores drop after broadband Internet service arrived in their neighborhoods. In Romania, families receiving government vouchers for a home computer had kids performance in math, English, and Romanian slide after getting the machines. In Texas, kids who participated in the state’s “technology immersion” program lost writing skills.

The only thing kids in these various studies got better at was computer skills.

Which they’ll need for sure. But the promise of computers as an educational tool for achievement in traditional academic areas like reading, writing and arithmetic seems to be largely fantastic.

Photo: San Jose Library

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