Hole in the Wall

I couldn’t quite believe this when I came across it earlier today, but it is most definitely worth a read: India: Hole in the Wall.

Taking the basic premise that children can teach themselves, New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra placed a high-spec Internet-enabled PC in a wall, next to a slum area, and left the children to use it any way they wanted. Without any prompting or guidance they taught themselves to use it (even if they didn’t know the technical terms involved); point-and-click, drag-and-drop, browsing, drawing, etc.

Mitra discovered “…  that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.”

He followed this up with an experiment: tow boys and two girls from the 9th grade. he gave them their physics exam-style question and two hours to figure out his “problem”. Their teachers talked to them afterwards and was impressed that they’d found out so much. He said;

“They don’t know everything about this subject or everything I would teach them. But they do know one hell of a lot about it. And they know a couple of things about it I didn’t know.”

What is the purpose of this? Well, I see it as the question about spending time and money teaching children to use the technology when they can quite competently teach themselves (and each other). if we were to concentrate on the subject we can use the technology to back it up and make it interesting for them.

What does this mean? I don’t think we give children / learners enough credit to be adaptable enough to figure things out on their own. The 9th grade kids used the Internet and found an understanding of some pretty complex physics concepts; even if it wasn’t enough to pass the exam, it was enough to impress their teachers .. and make him realise that he didn’t know everything.

And what of the kids in the slums? While none (or very few anyway) of them had any previous experience of using a computer, they knew enough from what they’d heard that they could use it to draw and find things out. Once Mitra said they could listen to music (but not show them) they figured it out, on their own. 

We shouldn’t under-estimate the power of self-motivation and the will to learn and better themselves!

  • David,
    My daughter just turned 3 a few days ago and for last 9 months or so she has been using my laptop to view some videos / cartoons and listen to songs. I was amazed to see her pick up, early on, all basic operations and most of them by just looking at what I do. She cant read but she can pick up a folder which has her favorite images from a clutter. She learnt typing before she learnt to write!

    I agree 101% on the child being able to learn a multitude of things on their own.

    Wondering what could they do with the right guidance and motivation and a set of appropriate tools and environment. Parents and teachers should become mentors from an early stage and participate in their learning growth.


  • Hi,

    First, though I have given a link to my blog, I wanted to clarify that mine is not really a blog in the true sense. It is more of a scratch pad where I put down my random thoughts and also stuff I have read and liked.

    Regarding Hole in the Wall. This is a project started by Dr. Sugata Mitra in 1999 and it has interested me for a very long time. I have been reading about this and am currently reading the book, “The Hole in the Wall: Self organising system in education” that describes the project in detail with the case studies taken from across India.

    He says something here that metaphorically represents what happened in this experiment.
    He begins with a small write up on Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Clark’s “2001, A Space Odyssey.” He talks about the black monolith from the movie that by itself did nothing, but around which things happened. The experiment he executed was similar. He left a computer in a hole in the wall adjacent to a slum. The rest just happened.

    Through this experiment, he explores what he terms “minimally invasive learning.” His premise is that most children, given the opportunity, can teach themselves to a large extent.

    There is a woderful video from TED where Dr. Mitra shows the children exploring the computer placed on the wall of their slum: http://idreflections.blogspot.com/2009/06/sugata-mitra-shows-how-kids-teach.html

    The video is strangely humbling. Children are not only learning but also helping others to learn. Teaching others.

    Since the kids were not familiar with English, they invented names for the objects they saw on the screen. The cursor was called “sui” or needle or “teer” or arrow. Many of them actually learned English, rudimentary no doubt, but enough to enable them to use the computer.

    He addresses four points in the presentation:
    1. Remoteness and the quality of education (actual distance)
    2. Remoteness that is of social and economical origin
    3. Ability of children to self instructed in a connected environment (power of what a group of children can do if you remove adult intervention)

    Interesting point to note is the ripple effect of the “learning,” how knowledge is being shared informally, and how children learn as much by watching as by doing.

    How can we take this experiment ahead today? Is learning at the primary level a self-organising system?

  • I do not have children but I am at the ripe old age where all my college friends are shooting out kids faster than I can count them. I really have not have much exposure to infants/toddlers/young children in my life (I usually babysat or worked with older children) and now that I do; it’s so amazing to watch them learn. I honestly believe children try to understand things the second they get out of the womb; and I think they understand more than we know. Great job on that article!

  • Kia ora e David!

    The One Laptop Per Child project launched by MIT’s Negroponte used this experiment and its results as a fulcrum for the project. Bill Kerr gave his opinion on the results in 2007. While I don’t agree entirely with the assumption that ALL children have the ability to pick up all that they need to know about the use of a computer without instruction, the implications for collaborative learning is extant.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth