Impact of computers on human capital

Number of governments have taken initiatives to provide subsidies to poor people that help buy computers. The question is have computers helped children improve their performance?

Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches try and estimate impact of Romanian government’s computers programs in this paper. Romanian Ministry of Education had started this Euro 200 project which have vouchers to poor people to purchase their computers.  

We collected survey data from households who participated in a unique government program in Romania which allocated vouchers for the purchase of a home computer to low-income children based on a simple ranking of family income.

We show that children in households who received a voucher were substantially more likely to own and use a computer than their counterparts who did not receive a voucher.

Our main results indicate that home computer use has both positive and negative effects on the development of human capital. Children who won a voucher had significantly lower school grades in Math, English and Romanian but significantly higher scores in a test of computer skills and in self-reported measures of computer fluency.

There is also evidence that winning a voucher increased cognitive ability, as measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices. We do not find much evidence for an effect on non-cognitive outcomes.

 Finally, the presence of parental rules regarding computer use and homework appear to mitigate the effects of computer ownership, suggesting that parental monitoring and supervision may be important mediating factors.

NBER June 2010 digest has a summary:

The study focused on students about one year after their families would have gotten their computer. However, the authors also look at a smaller sample of households (647 versus 3,354 in the main study) who participated in the same Euro 200 program four years earlier. They find that these families had significantly higher levels of computer ownership than non-voucher families, too. In light of the small numbers in this second sample, “we do not wish to draw any strong conclusions,” the authors write. “Nevertheless, taken as a whole, these results are consistent with the persistence of long-term negative effects on academic achievement, and positive long-term effects on cognitive ability and computer skills.”

Parental rules can help ameliorate some of the negative effects of a computer in the home the study finds, especially if they target the right activity. For example, the authors find that if parents have a rule limiting computer use, it tends to reduce the benefits of increased computer skills without boosting grades. By contrast, if they have a rule enforcing homework time, it tends to ameliorate the computer’s negative effect on grades without diminishing the benefits of increased computer skills and cognitive ability.

So mixed results. I recalled this post from Ryan Hann of PSD Blog. He guesses the next victim of RCT hype as one laptop per child. We have some elementary results of one computer per child in Romania. And it is mixed.

June 2010 also points exciting findings of this exciting paper – Public Avoidance and the Epidemiology of novel H1N1 Influenza. They estimate whether various measures taken by public to avoid H1N1 was effective?

When 196 million doses of an nH1N1 vaccine became available in the United States between October and December 2009, this nation’s avoidance response to the epidemic broadened. The researchers include data on the new vaccine in their forecasting models. They consider a worst-case scenario, with a 50 percent effective vaccine and 50 percent of the population receiving it, and a better scenario, with 50 percent vaccine effectiveness and 90 percent of the population receiving it. In both cases, the vaccine’s effectiveness is time-sensitive: the earlier the vaccination campaign begins, the lower the proportion of the population that will be infected. The authors find that more lives are saved and infection rates are reduced when both avoidance behaviors and a vaccination campaign begin before the flu has spread.

Their research also explores how prevalence of the flu influences individuals’ decisions about whether to practice or postpone avoidance behaviors. In the first stages of the epidemic, the governments and mass media both here and in Australia released information on nHN1 to the general public. Despite early vaccine shortages in the United States, widespread avoidance behaviors quickly slowed the nH1N1 infection rate. Yet, as the flu grew less prevalent and was less discussed in the media, the number of people receiving nH1N1 vaccinations lessened, even among health care workers and those who received seasonal flu shots.

Interesting again…how public responds to the government awareness programs.

One Response to “Impact of computers on human capital”

  1. Business Finance and Working Capital Financing Changes | Says:

    […] Impact of computers on human capital « Mostly Economics […]

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