* Children at home more for parents to nag
* Computer games, listening to music
By Mitra Taj
LIMA, Feb 25 Poor kids in the developing world
given laptops to help them make big educational leaps may wind
up doing more household chores and reading less than children
without the computers, according to a new study in Peru.
The study, which looked at a program that gave 1,000 laptops
to underprivileged primary school children in Lima, could temper
enthusiasm for investments in laptop distribution as a path to
better academic performance.
The working paper by the U.S.-based National Bureau of
Economic Research said children may do more chores because the
laptops encourage them to spend more time at home - giving their
parents more opportunities to nag them into washing clothes and
The group also said parents might be rewarding their
children with time on their laptops in exchange for completing
"The largest effects of computer use seem to be associated
with playing computer games and, to some extent, with listening
to music on the computer," wrote lead author Diether Beuermann.
While the authors found children spent more time on
computers, improvements in their cognitive skills were "small
and insignificant." They did not offer an explanation for the
reported decline in reading - which looked at the children's
total daily reading both online and offline - but said it was
consistent with other research.
The authors stressed that their findings were preliminary
and the study was not designed to evaluate the One Laptop per
Child project started by technology guru Nicholas Negroponte.
But the study used One Laptop per Child machines, and its
findings seem to contradict the initiative's key assumptions and
back critics who said it is not a magic wand.
"When every child has a connected laptop, they have in their
hands the key to full development and participation. Limits are
erased," says the website of the group, which now sells laptops
to governments in developing countries for about $200 each.
The U.S.-based One Laptop per Child initiative grew in part
out of the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, and has sold about 2.5 million laptops to more than
a dozen countries since around 2007. The goal of the program was
to develop laptops "inexpensive enough to give to every child in
Previous research found that school children in rural Peru
who received laptops as part an One Laptop per Child initiative
did not perform any better on math and language standardized
tests, though they did show improved cognitive skills - unlike
the latest study.
The One Laptop Per Child organization has criticized those
previous findings for focusing on short-term results, as opposed
to long-term improvements the group still expects.
The organization declined to specifically comment on Tuesday
about the study from the NBER.
Many countries - Peru especially - have invested heavily in
the program, though it has generated considerable debate among
local education specialists about whether it is the best way to
spend limited funds.
Peru, which puts less than 3 percent of gross domestic
product toward education each year, has spent $200 million on
about a million laptops for its nationwide program, the NBER
The NBER study looked at the habits of 2,700 children. They
compared pupils in 14 schools in Lima six months after they
received the laptops with students in 14 schools that did not
(Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Terry Wade and Cynthia