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In an education technology conference held recently, Microsoft was promoting several new brands of relatively-cheap laptops/tablets for use by schoolchildren.

Microsoft's "general manager of Microsoft education marketing" is quoted as saying:

We know that schools ... everywhere around the world ... need affordable, easy to use devices

Of course Microsoft is a tech company that's biased in favor of selling computers with their operating system on them. I wonder, though - do classroom environments really "need" such devices? Or even benefit significantly from them? To make this more specific, does the use of laptops/tablets in class noticeably improve commonly-used quantitative or qualitative evaluations of school education outcome?

My intuition is that the use of per-child computers in class use has a lot of overhead in terms of time and attention, and that its benefits are either balanced or outweighed by the detriments.

Has this question been studied seriously with any sort of clear conclusions?

Note: I'm asking about children/students throughout their years in school, which in most (?) countries means "primary"/"elementary" school, up to the end of "high school". The US term for these schools/school years is K12. If you have an answer that only regards a part of this age or school range, that helps too.

  • For the non-Americans among us (and because I stumbled over this myself before), "K12" means students up to their 12th year at school, i.e. up to High School. (And for what it's worth, my own kids -- 8th and 6th grade, respectively -- do own computers because I supplied them for home use, but not at school. The school -- which is rather well-equipped in all respects -- provides devices for dedicated computer classes, but not for general classroom use.) – DevSolar Jan 23 at 8:47
  • Can you focus this a bit? What specific effect is claimed? – Sklivvz Jan 23 at 9:04
  • @Sklivvz: See edit (paragraph after the quote.) – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jan 23 at 9:09
  • Computers can be used in many different ways. If you teach Office programs to children in the third world who otherwise wouldn't see a computer before their job that's likely to have very different effect then a first world class that uses the computers to get children researching subjects on the internet which in turn is quite different then using educational software designed to teach a certain skill. – Christian Jan 23 at 9:19
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    Seems like a good question to me if you could just add a notable claim. Even here in South Africa, it seems beneficial. My son doesn't have a school laptop or tablet but even last year in grade 4, was often asked to get info from the internet for small projects. – Jerome Viveiros Jan 23 at 9:24

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