A hole in the wall might sound like a mistake to you. Perhaps just something that needs to be filled up with cement or brickwork or even a window for a nice view. What would happen though, if you woke up one morning to find a computer lying in its place? The brainchild of Prof. Sugata Mitra, The Hole in the Wall project, is delivering fantastic and unexpected results to India’s poverty stricken regions.
When he began the project, Prof. Mitra already held a PhD in physics and headed the research department in Delhi’s NIIT, a software and education company worth approximately $2 billion. He believes that formal education is not a necessary prerequisite to be taught by computers.
In his project Prof. Mitra along with his colleagues carried out experiments for 13 years on the nature of self-organised learning. They dug a hole in a wall bordering a slum in New Delhi in 1999, installed an internet connected computer with a hidden camera and left it there. What they discovered was astonishing. Kids from slum could move the mouse and within weeks learnt to use the computer. Prof. Mitra proved that without any intervention or as termed ‘Minimally invasive education’, kids were able to browse the internet, draw on Paint and more without ever having seen a computer before.
This was then turned into a classroom activity where school children were offered a computer and without guidance had to find some answers to questions on their own. The teachers were astonished with how much they learned about topics they had not even been introduced to. Kunchok Nawang who teaches English, Hindi and Ladakhi made the following observation “I have found that children get either tired or bored listening to 40 minutes of lecture in the classroom…. They can learn in an interesting way at the computers, so their mind stays fresh.”
The Hole in the Wall project now has 23 rural operations set up in India, with more being opened up in Cambodia and similar operations being set up in Mexico. Prof. Mitra now travels the world explaining his ideas of child education and the Hole in the Wall experiment through various discourses including TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks. His idea also left a mark on popular culture as it provided the inspiration for Vikas Swarup’s Q & A which invariably became the award winning Slumdog Millionaire.