Over 500 ‘hole-in-the-wall’ computers are now freely available to use in India, Cambodia, Botswana, South Africa and other African nations. Apart from being able to browse the internet, underprivileged children can play educational games and learn basic IT skills. The computers are installed in safe, public spaces and their use is monitored remotely.
Sugata Mitra, who created the first hole-in-the-wall computer in 1999 while Chief Scientist of the National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT) in Kalkaji, New Delhi, defines it as Minimally Invasive Education. His argument is that learning happens best when it feels like play. The experiment capitalises on the innate curiosity and enquiring nature of young minds, a necessary precursor for future innovation. The hope is that children who learn through unconventional methods will in turn create exceptional products and solutions.
The next step for Mitra is the development of a ‘School in the Cloud’. Earlier this year, he received a $1 million TED Prize to help design and build this learning lab in India, which will pioneer cloud-based, scalable approaches to self-directed learning.
Since setting up the first hole-in-the-wall computer, a PC placed in a wall separating the NIIT campus from an adjoining slum, Mitra has received numerous awards for his work. He was initially driven by the belief that a computer would lure children from the nearby slum to explore and learn on their own, which it did. Encouraged by the success of the experiment, he then set about installing similar freely accessible computers in other towns and villages.
In 2001, the International Finance Corporation joined with NIIT to set up Hole-in-the-Wall Education Limited (HiWEL), with the aim of conducting more research and broadening the scope of the hole-in-the-wall experiments. Learning stations were set up in 23 locations across India, and the experiment is now been replicated in other developing nations.
However, Viraal Balsari, India Co-Director, Forum for the Future, says that while HiWEL is “a good on the spot innovation” for long-term impact “such learning has to be dovetailed with access to primary education.” – Charukesi Ramadurai
Photo credit: Toffler Ann