The idea of computers as liberators appealed to Silicon Valley philanthropists and Nicholas Negroponte could certainly tell a compelling story but, as Timothy Ogden explains, today the one laptop per child project seems to be in technical and financial trouble, the evidence that computers increase learning either in the classroom or at home is weak and the demand for the computers (as opposed to say cell phones (pdf)) in the developing world is low. Meanwhile, simpler, cheaper approaches with proven evidence are not being fully exploited. Here's Ogden.
The simplest and least costly of these programs is deworming. Nearly 2 billion people around the world are affected by parasitic worm infections, with children disproportionately affected. While each variety of parasitic worm affects a person differently, they all take a substantial toll on growth, energy and attention, with entirely predictable impacts on school attendance and learning. Harvard economist Michael Kremer has studied the impact of mass deworming in Kenya and India. Delivering deworming medication costs 50 cents per child per year in Kenya but yielded a 25 percent increase in school attendance; a similar program in India cost $4 per student per year and yielded a 20 percent attendance gain. "This is a simple, cost-effective and yet tragically not-done program. It's a scandal that [deworming] hasn't been addressed," Kremer says. There are spillover effects as well. "The most surprising thing about the study in Kenya was the widespread impact," Kremer says. The program drove down infection rates for several kilometers around the schools, he says, and there were significant improvements in attendance for untreated students, in the treatment schools as well as in nearby schools not in the program.