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Handing Out Laptops in School Isn't Enough—Teachers Need Training, Too

New research shows a laptop program in Peru hasn't improved test scores.

Computer literacy is a necessity in the 21st century, so schools and governments around the globe have been eager to participate in the One Laptop Per Child program, a nonprofit initiative that provides inexpensive laptops for students. For the poorest kids, laptops provided by their school provide the only opportunity to access the internet or learn to use technology. That alone is valuable, but because the laptops represent such a significant financial investment, governments want to know whether access to technology boosts math and literacy achievement. Initial results aren't promising.

Researchers from the Inter-American Development Bank analyzed 15 months of data collected from 319 schools in Peru that provided a laptop for every student. Despite a $225 million government investment in the technology, the researchers found that laptops didn't improve math and literacy test scores or motivate students to want to learn.

But such disappointing results don’t mean that Peru—or any other country—should put the brakes on the OLPC program. Just as sitting a kid in front of a library doesn’t automatically make her a better reader, simply handing technology to students isn't going to boost student achievement on its own. The researchers say teachers need training on how to integrate the laptops into their classroom instruction.

Training teachers seems like common sense, but too often school districts buy technology without creating a plan for professional development on how to use it. That represents a missed opportunity—the explicit emphasis on teacher training and development is what has made Maine’s world-renowned one-to-one student laptop program such a success.

Maine's teachers have received extensive training on how to use the laptops both in their everyday instruction and for remediation and practice with students. As a result, a 2009 study showed that the laptops have contributed to a significant boost in Maine’s math and writing scores. Last fall, Maine even held a three-day workshop for teachers, principals, superintendents, and education policymakers to learn and share ways to use technology to support student learning. Clearly, if the nations participating in the OLPC program want to learn how to train teachers, Maine is eager to help.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user One Laptop per Child

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