The Hole in the Wall, an experiment in minimally invasive self-organising teaching by Sugata Mitra of NIIT, has returned to Kalkaji, the Delhi neighbourhood where it was prototyped 15 years ago. This second iteration is called the Granny Cloud, and while the HIW had demonstrated that illiterate children could learn from an unattended computer terminal in a slum, the next stage of the experiment shows that children with minimal English can be guided in their learning by “grannies” from all over the world, who appear on Skype to chat with them. The experiment now in progress at a government school in Kalkaji, could have immense implications for India’s education-deficient population.
The combination of cheap smartphones, mobile internet and the imminent explosion in mobile media will bring new opportunities for self-teaching to populations underserved by the formal education system. Since Mitra’s experiments specifically address students with little or no English, they offer hope that the digital divide may be sidestepped. Methods and modules developed for India are actually geography-agnostic, and the Granny Cloud is also deployed in Colombia. The combination of HIWs, Granny Clouds and Massive Open Online Courses , which have become popular for continuing self-education, could provide an alternative to formal education. An interesting variation on the Platonic conception of education, this could discover completely new talent in disciplines that value ability over certification.
But an idea with such potential took 15 years to incubate. It is puzzling why a polymath with a creative interest in alternative education, born in a country in desperate need of education solutions, did not find wider material support for his ideas.