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Books or Laptops? The Cost-Effectiveness of Shifting from Printed to Digital Delivery of Educational Content

Rosangela Bando, Francisco Gallego, Paul Gertler, Dario Romero

NBER Working Paper No. 22928
Issued in December 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Development Economics, Economics of Education, Public Economics

Information and communication technologies, such as laptops, can be used for educational purposes as they provide users with computational tools, information storage and communication opportunities, but these devices may also pose as distractors that may tamper with the learning process. This paper presents results from a randomized controlled trial in which laptops replaced traditional textbook provision in elementary schools in high poverty communities in Honduras in 2013 through the program Educatracho. We show that at the end of one school year, the substitution of laptops for textbooks did not make a significant difference in student learning. We additionally conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis, which demonstrated that given the low marginal costs of digital textbook provision, the substitution of three additional textbooks in the program (for a total of five) would guarantee computers to be more cost-effective than textbooks. Therefore, textbook substitution by laptops may be a cost-effective manner to provide classroom learning content.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22928

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