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Computers at Home Neither Help, Nor Hurt Students

Simply giving kids computers won't suddenly make them do better in school

smithsonian.com

If you want to get your kid ahead in school, you might get him some tutoring lessons or flash cards. Or, if you’re tech savvy, you might think that having a computer in the home would help. But it turns out that kids with computers at home don’t do any better or worse than their peers without, according to a new paper out of the University of Southern California.

The study looked at 15 schools in California that had, in total, 1,123 students enrolled in grades 6 through 10. None of these students had computer at home at the beginning of the study. At the beginning of the school year, half of them were given computers for their homes. At the end of the school year, the researchers looked at all sorts of parameters, from the school administered tests to how often the students were absent or late, to see if those who won the computer lottery had done any better. None of it had changed. “Although computer ownership and use increased substantially,” they wrote, “we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions.”

This result might surprise people in both directions. Some studies have suggested that computers at home distract kids by giving them access to games and Facebook. Other, earlier studies found that having a computer at home is associated with higher test scores, by giving them access to educational materials they might not otherwise have. But for the students in California, it simply didn’t seem to matter at all. That’s probably because students do both the educational and the distracting things with their computers. “The kids with the free computers used them for homework — and for videogames and Facebook,” researcher Robert Farlie explained to the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, computer can certainly be useful to students, Farlie says. “It’s not to say that computers are not useful,” he said. “It’s always hard when you’re trying to measure these impacts on grades and test scores. It’s hard to change grades and test scores but it still could be useful for kids. It’s not clear that this had a measurably large impact.”

But what they can say is that simply giving kids computers won’t suddenly make them do better in school.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Should All Students Be Forced to Learn Computer Science?
Can a Computer Really Grade an Essay?
Teaching Kids Real Math With Computers

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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