City anchor: In South Delhi slum,a Hole in the Wall is window to world

It started as a project meant to test the learning ability of children using computers unsupervised.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi | Published:February 28, 2013 2:31 am

It started as a project meant to test the learning ability of children using computers — unsupervised.

On January 26,1999,in collaboration with the Delhi government,a team led by Dr Sugata Mitra,then Chief Scientist at NIIT,carved open a section of a wall adjoining the NIIT campus,and placed a computer there. This was used by children,without supervision,from the adjacent slum — quite literally,“A Hole in the Wall”,was born.

The next year,a similar set of computers was installed in Dakshinpuri in South Delhi.

The success of the project has been such that it has become the inspiration for an internationally acclaimed movie,and 14 years after the project took off,Dr Mitra has been awarded $1 million grant by non-profit organisation TED,to take his innovation forward.

While the computers at Kalkaji have been shut due to construction work,those at Dakshinpuri are functioning.

Purnendu Hota,from Hole in the Wall Education Systems,said,“The concept behind the project was to see if children,who were new to computers,could work on the Internet without supervision. Within a month,the children at the Kalkaji slum were experts at it. The computers were carved into the walls at both places,where the children could use it for free. Through our studies,we saw that without any formal education,children had begun to grasp the complexities of scientific and mathematical concepts.”

In the 14 years that have passed since,“Hole in the Wall” concept has spread to Kerala and Maharashtra. “In Delhi itself,these computers have been set up in Lajpat Nagar and Alipur.

There are two of these systems in juvenile care centres as well. A local representative opens the boxes containing these computers at 9am and shuts them at 5pm.

“When a child hits a button,he or she is asked his or her age. Based on that,there are educational games on mathematics,geography,and other subjects. There are information storing devices on these computers,which look at the patterns of usage,” Hota said.

Residents of Dakshinpuri said that they have trouble pulling their children away from these computers. “Our children often tell us they learn more on them than at school. They even seem to do better at examinations now,” said Rakesh Panwar,owner of a grocery store next to a row of four Hole In the Wall computers.

The project was also the inspiration behind the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup,an IFS officer. This novel led to the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire.

Swaraup said,“I was inspired by hole-in-the-wall project,where a computer with an Internet connection was put in a Delhi slum. When the slum was revisited after a month,the children of that slum had learnt how to use the Internet. I realised that there’s an innate ability in everyone to do something extraordinary,provided they are given an opportunity.”

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