Oscar Becerra's Letter to the Editors of The Economist


I was surprised by your "Error Message" article, which alleges that the key-takeway of the recent IADB study on the OLPC project in Peru is "it [OLPC] does not accomplish anything in particular." The Economist minimized the study's findings of important positive effects including substantially increased use of computers both at school and at home, improvement in general cognitive skills and competence in operating laptops. OLPC Peru's primary goal was not improving test scores in Math or Language.

A Peruvian Classroom

As other studies have shown, improving teacher quality and attracting the best minds into the profession are the optimal long-term solutions for advancing education systems. As the person responsible for Una Laptop por Niño in Peru for almost five years, I think it important that your readers have some insight into the quality of teaching in Peru:

  • A 2007 census evaluation of 180,000 Peruvian teachers showed 92% lacked basic Math skills and 62% of them did not read at 6th grade level, 27% were at levels of zero or below.
  • After 200 hours of remedial education run by local universities' faculties of education, 13% of the teachers were still at the same zero or below level.

The children of Peru, and our country as whole, cannot afford to wait the 10 years required to substantially improve teacher quality. The government is investing in educational interventions, such as OLPC, that will help our children make progress now.

ICT skills are key ingredients for success in the 21st century. The study describes very promising results regarding computer-related skills, and this is an educational outcome that should not be dismissed.

Better cognitive skills are also a great gain. One surprisingly positive result is the 4.6 to 6 months advantage in cognitive skills progression, which means a 30 to 40% improvement in just 15 months. It remains to be seen if improved cognitive skills will translate into better test scores.

It is our hope that the IADB study will serve as a guide for Peru to get the most out of the investment already made in improving educational opportunities for our children. Maybe it is worth quoting Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quijote when he said "Let the dogs bark Sancho, it's a sign that we keep advancing."

Oscar Becerra was the Chief Educational Technologies Officer in the Peruvian Ministry of Education between September 2007 and July 2011.


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