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Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality—this article responds to some research done with young teenagers, looking at computer subsidy programs for lower income families and comparing future school performance with control groups–either groups without computers or higher income families.

The result? “We found a negative effect on academic achievement.” When computers were given to the kids, their scores went down in math and languages. The one positive effect? Better computer skills.

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.

As a teacher, I was simply nodding my head at this, not surprising. But now I have doubts. Maybe there are other legitimate ways to interpret the results. Yes, computers probably do offer kids further distraction from study. Does that mean their education suffers?

Other studies have been done that show brain activity is much higher for someone playing a computer game than when they sit in a classroom or read a textbook. Something is going on there. What are they learning? Games, of course, are one way to learn strategy, and planning. Not math and language, but important skills none the less.

A new study needs to be done. Do not test these kids for math and language, test them for critical thinking skills. I bet the results are very different. Then develop some more games that enhance those math and language skills we like so much.

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