OLPC Australia has been in existence since 2006. Srikhanta said the organisation had changed its focus and was concentrating on working with schools only after the teachers had been trained in using the OLPC laptops. He said a class-by-class approach had been adopted for deployment.
OLPC Australia was now beginning a study to gather facts and figures about the efficacy or otherwise of the OLPC project, Srikhanta said. A researcher from the University of Wollongong, Sarah Howard, and another person from Swinburne University, Ellie Rennie, would be involved, the latter concentrating on what he called the community aspect of the project.
OLPC Australia began deploying the laptops in 2009; when iTWire spoke to Srikhanta during that year, he said that the Australian Council for Educational Research was carrying out a study to gauge the efficacy of the project.
It turns out that the ACER report is merely a review of the available literature rating the project. This report is now in its fourth revision and that was produced in 2010.
Even while reviewing others' documentation, ACER cannot avoid the fact there is never much formal documentation from any deployment: "most feedback from the OLPC programs has been anecdotal in nature."
The ACER report also cites instances from other countries - the US (Southern California), Colombia and India - where similar projects have been put in place. The Colombian study came to a similar conclusion as the Peru study has - there was no benefit in learning, only an increase in computer use.
The Indian study found that it made no difference when it came to maths.
The US study, while speaking of "important changes" did not quantify these. It did, however, admit that there was no effect on standardised test score results.
While speaking to Srikhanta I had to repeatedly bring the conversation back to the point - was there empirical evidence to support his contention that the OLPC project was assisting education?
After a while, Srikhanta accused iTWire of biased reporting. He argued that any report on the use of laptops in education should look at the use of laptops sold by commercial companies as well; else, it had no validity, he said.
When I told him that my inquiries were occasioned by the fact that he had made claims that ran counter to a very well-documented scientific study, he said that it was the wrong line of inquiry; rather iTWire, in his opinion, should be doing a story about technology in education.
I told him that he was under no compulsion to answer my queries; after a while, he said he did not wish to speak to iTWire any more.
Barrie did not directly respond to my queries whether he had set up a formal control group to measure the improvement he had claimed or whether there were any statistics to back up his conclusion.
He provided a detailed account of how the laptops had been deployed in his school, emphasising that it had taken place only after understanding the pedagogy of the XO laptop.
While Barrie claimed that within six months of the first XO deployment "we started to see more regular attendance and improved reading scores," he was quick to add: "To be fair, this was attributable to a range of factors: the school's nutrition program, the interventions from our partner university, the growing maturity of our teaching staff, support for the teacher aides and the school's development of a RATEP program to ensure sustainability of all of these changes in the community."
Given all these factors, how one could judge the deployment of the XO and improvement in NAPLAN scores as being in any way related without a control group being set up is rather mystifying.