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Innovation

With no teachers, Hole-in-the-Wall kids teach themselves computers

A free Internet club located near New Delhi's biggest slum, the Hole-in-the-Wall is getting amazing results from India's poorest kids. What could they do with a teacher?
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor on

Forget about the $100 laptop—how about free?

Free access to computers is what Sugata Mitra, physicist and chief scientist with India's international software giant NIIT Ltd. wants for India's 200 million children. That's why he started an Internet learning experiment called Hole-in-the-Wall, where he embedded a kiosk housing high-speed touch-screen computers into the wall that separates the company's headquarters from New Delhi's biggest slum, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

That was in 1999 and since then Mitra has installed more then 150 computers - with keyboards, touch pads, and Web cameras - in some 50 locations from New Delhi slums to points in rural India.

Mitra hopes that widespread implementation of these kiosks could bring India's poorest group of children into the digital age. It's amazing how quickly the children pick up the skills they need to operate and learn from computers, Mitra says. Within nine months, the boys and girls achieve, "the proficiency level equivalent to the skills of most modern office workers."

"In India, this has not been achieved and is not expected to be achieved in the near future," Mitra says. "There are not enough schools and not enough teachers."
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And what about exposing kids to pornography? Keeping the computer in a public place curtails the use of pornographic sites. Mitra says that Hole-in-the-Wall computers have experienced "less than 0.5 percent pornographic access," adding that the computers "are clearly visible to passing adults." The fact that both boys and girls have access "completely eliminates pornographic or other undesirable access," he says.

But the computers are giving an educational boost to kids who ordinarily wouldn't have access to a quality education.

Robert Hetzel, a Milwaukee, Wisc., native who directs the American Embassy School here says, "What is being learned with Hole-in-the-Wall is how much kids can just figure out without adult assistance. The question remains as to whether the rate of learning could be accelerated with the aid of a teacher," Mr. Hetzel says. "At the same time, I am in awe of how much these poor kids have taught themselves about computers."

With a $1.6 million grant to implement The Hole in the Wall experiment in rural India, Mitra estimates the project could go nationwide in less than five years.

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