LIFT07: minimally invasive education

I was a LIFT these past few days even though a bad flu meant a lot of time in my hotel room (thankfully a nice room at Les Armures).  For great coverage check out Bruno Giussani.  Of what I did see, I was fascinated by the extraordinary educational experiments of Prof. Sugata Mitra of HIWEL.

Dr. Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist at NIIT, is credited with the discovery of Hole-in-the-Wall. As early as 1982, he had been toying with the idea of unsupervised learning and computers. Finally, in 1999, he decided to test his ideas in the field. On 26th January, Dr. Mitra’s team carved a “hole in the wall” that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own.

The original “hole in the wall” being installed

In a nutshell, this is what happens:

  • a hole in the walll computer is installed in a village or slum
  • within 10 minutes, some entrepreprising child has taught himself to surf
  • within hours, a collaborative surfing experience is under way
  • in months, children teach themselves IM, email, gaming, online music and video, general surfing, English
  • like any good grassroots network, this is one is self-organisational and so efficient because it does not impose a way of functioning on its members

Children teach themselves collaboratively with minimum outside intervention, hence the term minimally invasive education.  Skills picked up include problem solving, collaboration, sharing.  In remote areas where no English was spoken, children would teach themselves basic English (badly pronounced but correctly conceptualised) from using the computer.

It also seems that as a complement to traditional educaction, the programme has a real impact on a child’s academic results, as you can see in detail here.

It’s really fascinating stuff.  The interaction between the children is best appreciated by watching the HIWEL videos, but unfortunately I could not locate any on the web.  Some of the great moments include the boy who learns to surf in a few minutes, the little girl who teaches the older boy (she has knowledge that he cannot “take” from her, so collaboration is the only way for him to progress) and the formation of “circles of knowledge” (3 kids operating the PC, another circle of 8 kids providing expert comments, another circle 16 kids providing completely useless comments, all learning from each other).

Chanchal (Girl, 12): “I love solving Maths problems. I find that very interesting. I have learnt it from my sister Raj. I have taught my friend Shilpa.”

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