Giving Kids Computers Doesn't Help Them In School At All

A new study looked at organizations that give disadvantaged kids home computers and found that kids used the computers a lot—but not for schoolwork.

There’s an unspoken assumption that giving poor and disadvantaged kids computers will help them academically. That’s why there are so many organizations doling out computers and Internet access for their schools and after-school programs. But home computers? They don’t make a difference.

Slate reports on a study that gave computers to kids in California who didn’t have a computer at home. The kids took advantage of the gift—they spent 50% more of their time using a computer for social networking, playing games, and doing homework. But academically, there was no impact. From Slate:

But there was no improvement in academic achievement or attendance or anything else. There wasn’t even an improvement in computer skills. At the same time, there was no negative impact either. The access to extra computer games didn’t reduce total time spent on homework or lead to any declines in anything. They broke it down by a few demographic subgroups and didn’t find anything there either. It’s just a huge nada. Nothing happening.

The results of this research are the logical follow up to a 2008 study that looked at the effect of a voucher program in Romania, implemented to help families pay off the cost of a home computer for their kids, on education. The result: Kids whose families used the vouchers watched less TV, but had significantly lower grades in math, English, and Romanian classes. Yet another study in 2010 showed that computer use among students is is linked to a widened achievement gap among rich and poor.

The researchers behind the later study speculated on the reasoning in the Register:

The profs suggest that this is because a kid in a disadvantaged home given a computer and internet access will tend to be poorly supervised and use it mainly for gaming, social networking or other timewasting online/computer activities rather than buckling down and doing homework. Thus computered-up poor children actually become dumber than they would have been without the tech.

If parents of all the children in the most recent study had provided constant supervision, the results would probably be more heartening. But it’s easier for a distractible school-age kid (or anyone, really) to mess around on a computer than to do actual work, no matter how many online resources are available.

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  • Ron

    As a retired teacher, I say "duh", it took a study for them to figure that.  If decision makers would stop playing politics with academic decisions and rely on classroom teachers' judgments, our education system would be much better served and taxpayers would have to spend less.  (Then we would be able to pay teachers a rate at least closer to what they deserve.)

  • Scanglin

    I get this article, however, I would rather see a kid use a computer than not.  Poor or rich.  Eventually, the hope is that they will utilize it for more productive purposes.  I would venture to say that a more economically advantaged kid spends as much time using a computer for social networking and gaming as does a poor child.  I think what is important here, to make this tool more useful, is getting parents or supervisors more involved. 

  • greggfesta

    Instead of asking kids how much more they learned in school as result of having a computer at home, why not ask them how much more did they learn at home  using their computer than they did at school without one? 

  • Rome Qs

    If a kid has problems with a hand tool, giving them a power tool won't solve the problem. Jussayin..