Giving poor kids computers doesn’t help them do better in school, writes Ray Fisman in Slate. Children are more likely to use computers for entertainment than for learning.
In Romania, some low-income families were given vouchers to help them buy computers; others applied but were turned down. Children spent seven hours more per week on the computer once they had one at home.
Much of this computer time came at the expense of television-watching: Children in families that received a voucher spent 3.5 fewer hours in front of the tube per week. But computer use also crowded out homework (2.3 hours less per week), reading, and sleep. Less schoolwork translated into lower grades at school â€” vouchered kids’ GPAs were 0.36 grade points lower than their nonvouchered counterparts â€” and also lower aspirations for higher education. Vouchered kids were 13 percentage points less likely to report an intention to attend college. And, interestingly, vouchered students who were college-bound were not more likely to express interest in majoring in computer science.
If a parent was at home to supervise, the negative effects were diminished significantly.
So, do we want to give a cheap laptop to every child?