Both Sides of Digital Divide Debate

Last weekend I came across two conflicting stories:

One Laptop Per Child has achieved its goals in Uruguay, with a population of about 3 million people.  BBC coverage is positive.  Teachers in Uruguay who were against the program now applaud it, according to this (and the broadcast I heard on Canadian public radio).  One of the biggest effects was that kids spent more total hours at school, where the broadband was.

Then, the NYTimes reports this negative effect on teenagers who get broadband internet access, citing publication of studies in North Carolina and Romania which followed up on well meaning PC distribution and broadband internet campaigns:
"Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts."
The difference may have to do with the kid's age (Uruguay is elementary schools, the North Carolina program was aimed at teens), or may have to do with internet access at home (NC) vs. at school (Uruguay).  I had previously read that my kids generation is doing better on test scores, perhaps because computers and chatting replaced video games and TVused by previous generations.  Computers are now more communicative, involve spelling and reading, and are more interactive, and pertain more to reality (it actually matters what you do online, vs. say "Grand Theft Auto").

There is no discussion about the projected increase in "ewaste" in Uruguay, though that has to follow.  The "precautionary principle" some interpret to mean that you can't give one laptop per child unless you have a system to recycle the laptops you give to the children.   I wrote yesterday that the model of not having industries until you have hospitals is not replicable.

Based on my own experience with our kids, giving teens access to ANYTHING for the first time when they are teenagers is a recipe for trouble.  Clifford Stoll has another theory, about 1:40 minutes into the video below, which I found about from TED which I found about at Slashdot, which just scooped my blog yesterday because I set this post aside and posted about Safety and China instead.  He makes an intriguing case for "no computers in any schools, take them out!", says that any 4th grade teacher can tell you that, and prances about in a geek-tweeker persona.  (How many people have equal exposure to techie geeks and methie tweekers?  Only in "ewaste", man. Love this job).

I like this quote from Clifford.
The first time you do something, you're a scientist.  
The second time you do it, you're an engineer.  
The third time you do it, you're a technician.

Today's post is sponsored by this new digital camera I bought, the Olympus SP-800UZ.  It's 14 megapixels and is quick to snap and records video.   The power saving feature shuts it into a sleep mode between shots, which is pretty annoying, so I just got a backup charger and battery. I am only going to promote devices I've used personally and don't have "buyers remorse".  These are called "no buyers remorse so far" plugs.  I'll see if anyone buys off of this link whether I get a commission like I'm supposed to with this plugin ("plug" in).  And if I'm really disappointed in the future, I will redtag this baby.

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