Is The OLPC Program a Failure? Evidence from a Short Term Research in Peru

By Maria Aguirre

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program seeks to improve learning in the poorest regions of the world by providing children with computers for use at both school and home. Since its start, the program has been implemented in 36 countries and has distributed more than 2 million laptops. In Latin America, the initiative began in the last decade, making the largest investment in Peru. However,  recent research conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) concluded that the OLPC initiative in this country failed to increase student performance in Math and Language. This post aims to discuss these results and to include analysis from other sources in order to promote a healthy discussion on this topic.

Recently a working paper by the IDB assessed the OLPC program in Peru, the country leading such initiatives in the region. With a tone of social inclusion, this initiative sought to primarily benefit rural, underprivileged communities. Since its inception, nearly a million laptops have been delivered to the students. However, the results according to this research are not encouraging. The document’s objective was to expose the lack of empirical evidence about the effects of ICT programs. The document evaluated the impacts after 15 months of implementation of the program, using a randomized control trial. The main result indicates an increase in the number of computers per student; yet, it finds no evidence of improvements in the enrollment or test scores in Math and Language.

Oscar Becerra, the person who was in charge of implementing the OLPC program from the Peruvian Ministry of Education, says in an article that “the effect is neither magic nor fast” but “it is a combination of interventions that will have long-term effects”. Becerra also points out that Peru usually suffers from the “vicious tradition” among politicians to stop their predecessors’ initiatives and start something new, regardless of the previous project’s success; yet, this was successfully prevented in the case of the OLPC program. Moreover, according to the document, the only positive result reflects a significant change in the development of cognitive skills, According to a separate blog entry posted by the IDB is a result entirely overlooked by the IDB study.

According to the World Bank blog one of the reasons why this happens -and by “this” I mean getting bad results from an initiative expected to be positive- is because of the way the program is being evaluated. This blog entry states that use of standardized tests instead of using tests developed by experts, can account for very different results. In addition, it states that “change doesn’t come unless you make real changes”; which means that change usually does not happen by a single discrete intervention. According this blog “dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen” is the worst practice of ICT use in education. Moreover, The Economist article follow the hypothesis that children learn much faster than teachers, and that teachers are not being prepared enough to keep it up with the technological change. Likewise, the article posted by the IDB[1] indicates that because the OLPC program did not included specific interventions to integrate laptop use into the curriculum, an actual change in learning was not to happen.

Just as a concluding comment, I would like to say that yes, ICT use in education should be controlled, organized and promoted with support from the government and the school itself. Both teachers and students working together with this initiative that certainly DOES facilitate and promote learning. Is just a tool, but if used properly it should lead to wonderful results!


Error message, The Economist on April 2012.

Evaluating One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru, EduTech World Bank Blog on March 2012.

Study: OLPC Fails Students as a Tool for Education, PC Magazine on April 2012.

One Laptop per Child program not improving math or language test scores, according to study; The Verge on April 2012.

And the jury is back: One Laptop per Child is not enough, Inter-American Development Bank on March 2012.

Oscar Becerra on OLPC Peru’s Long-Term Impact. EduTech Debate, on March 2012.

Link to the IDB document:

OLPC in Peru:

[1] And the jury is back: One Laptop per Child is not enough, Inter-American Development Bank on March 2012.


Posted on April 18, 2012, in Lessons from Failures and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Interesting comments about OLPC. What I find fascinating about the constant negative commentary of the OLPC program is that other programs such as the MS Partnerships rarely attract this level of scrutiny. Why? because I am certain that these programs are struggling with the same issues of development which make progress hard to define and measure but they continue to generate positive press because of corporate social responsibility exhibited by MS and Mr Gates. Is there a bias on the reporting of OLPC?

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