Technology can’t provide a quick fix for social problems, Kentaro Toyoma tells MIT Technology Review.
When he worked for Microsoft in India, Toyoma tried to use technology to strengthen schools, teach farming techniques and improve health. Now a “recovering technoholic” and university professor, he’s the author of Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.
One Laptop per Child, which which provided low-cost laptops to children in the Third World, had little effect, says Toyoma.
In randomized, controlled trials . . . schools with laptops did not see their children gain anything in terms of academic achievement, in terms of grades, in terms of test scores, in terms of attendance, or in terms of supposed engagement with the classroom.
Children are “overjoyed” when they get a new gadget, he says. But it’s “the same joy that you see when you peek over the shoulder of a kid who has a smartphone in their hands in the developed world, which is to say they’re overjoyed because they’re playing Angry Birds.”
I think it’s perfectly sensible for parents to want a certain amount of exposure to technology for their children, both as a form of explorative play and as a way to get them used to technology that they’ll undoubtedly encounter later in their life. I think the fundamental error people make is that, therefore, we should have the computer be the primary instrument of education for all children.
Providing content is easy, he says. What’s difficult is motivating children to learn. “Whether the technology helped or not was really up to people.”