Free Computer access for Underprivileged children
Created by Dr. Sugata Mitra, NIIT’s Chief Scientist Emeritus
Mr. Purnenddu Kumar Hotta, one of the team members of HiWEP spoke to us about Dr. Mitra’s interest in taking technology to under-privileged communities and observing how children learn.
Excerpts from the interview:
Hole-in-the-Wall Education Project was set-up to research and propagate the idea and a path breaking learning methodology “Minimally Invasive Education”, created by Dr. Sugata Mitra, NIIT’s Chief Scientist Emeritus. The trajectory of his work brought him to be interested in early literacy. Earlier, the project was known as Minimally Invasive Education project, later the name “Hole-in-the-Wall” was given by media, as it literally carved a “Hole-in-the-Wall” and through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use by the children.
The idea behind HiWEP-
It all started in Kalkaji, New Delhi where the team carved a Hole-in-the-Wall that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum, and through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use by the children which proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior exposure and experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own.
The experiment suggested that children, irrespective of their social, ethnic or educational identity and background can learn to use computers by themselves, thereby help closing the much discussed “digital divide”. HiWEL’s methodology primarily focuses on diluting any mental barriers associated with using computers, by placing them in the middle of slums and playgrounds and this small step creates a huge difference in terms of impact and achievement of IT skills.
Making a Difference
With over 250 Hole-in-the-wall learning units installed and currently running in India, besides Africa, Cambodia and Bhutan, it has brought the spark of learning to over 2 million children from the developing countries.
Children in the age group 5-14+ years are the most benefitted from the project. Often in groups of 2 to 5+, while learning to use keyboard, mouse, productivity tools, search engines and emails, they also learn to leverage Internet, and pre-loaded age-specific resources on life-skills, curriculum-based content etc. “Minimally Invasive Education” pedagogy attracts the users to the Learning Station by drawing on the curiosity and self-interests that they bring along.
Monitoring the Children Virtually– He clarifies that, the Learning stations are equipped with monitoring utilities to monitor the health of the learning stations, its usage, in terms of contents and internet. It logs into what the children are utilising at the Learning Station and on internet as well. These utilities not only restrict the children from accessing the inappropriate sites, it also keeps a track of sites they are visiting and what are being accessed.
What do children like about Learning Station?
The best they like about the learning station is that, it is free and full of edutainment, it belongs to them and they have the freedom to use it without any fear or adult intervention.
When asked whether this kind of free learning of computers help in academics, he confidently says- Yes, and there are number of examples on this. “When children work in groups around a computer and research a subject or topic, they invariably find the right answers.” This is because they interact with each other and quickly correct erroneous notions. He further adds that many children, who come to the learning station, get so hooked to the joyful learning process, which makes the learning interesting, sooner or later they get in to the formal education system.
Knowledge Assessment of Children-We engage both qualitative and quantitative assessments with pre-test and post-test methodology to understand the learning curve and see how the children are doing. We have number of cases where the children from the community were enrolled in the formal schooling after they were exposed to Hole-in-the-Wall Learning Stations.
Further, the project plans to reach remote areas in the country, where there is lack of educational infrastructure, lack of teachers and lack of access to the technology and learning per say. Even to places where there is no electricity, this should not be a deterrent for children to be part of “Digital India” movement, which eventually they are the future users.
HiWEL’s Financial Support- With India’s “Digital Mission” and not to leave any child behind, Hole-in-the-Wall Project invites partnership with corporates through their CSR to help lighting the spark of learning and impact the lives of many more children especially in rural India. At the hand of the end-user i.e. children, it is free as the project doesn’t impose any financial consideration from them. All the projects are external fund based. Volunteers are needed to help with Child centric content development, to conduct workshops on various topics like social issues, development of PBL modules etc.
Goal- To connect children of different communities, states and countries by using internet and create a platform through which future leaders can be produced.
Children are natural learners and are best examples of self-organising system. We adults need to understand and give them their own learning space and act as motivators rather than imposers. “It is all about letting the learning happen with lots of joy than making it happen.”
Purnenddu Kumar Hotta
Hole-in-the-Wall Education Project (HiWEP)
8 Balaji Estate, Guru Ravi Dass Marg
Kalkaji, New Delhi 110 019, India