Can children learn entirely on their own? That was the question on Sugata Mitra’s mind back on January 29th, 1999, then science director of an educational technology firm in India. The experiment was simply placing a computer on the outside wall of the building where he worked facing one of the poorest slums in New Delhi. This endeavor became known as the Hole in the Wall. The curious visitors were children who are unschooled and illiterate and most who had never seen a computer before. That computer had a video camera to record what was happening.
What he recorded was quite amazing. Children around the ages of 7 - 13 began to play with this curious device. They moved icons on the screen, used the touch pad, and once they discovered something, that information was passed on to another child. This was all done without any instruction from adults. Dozens of children were using the computer to play music and games, to draw with Microsoft Paint, and use other computer tasks. So was this simply an anomaly, a one-time event? Mitra and his colleagues repeated this experiment in other places in India, rural as well as urban, getting the same results. Often if they could not read, they managed to somehow learn English or Hindi through the computer. Mitra estimates for every computer setup, 300 children became computer literate within 3 months.
Was it a perfect system of learning? Maybe not. Some of the criticisms range from the the lack of evidence of actual improvement in math or other skills in the children; computers themselves falling eventually into disrepair without proper maintenance or management; and more of the children were older boys, so younger girls were often deprived of the experience.
Nonetheless, Mitral's experiments illustrate the three core aspects of our human nature: curiosity, playfulness and sociability. Curiosity was the force that pulled the children to the computer and motivated them to explore it. Playfulness motivated them to practice many computer skills, just for fun; while sociability allowed the children to share their knowledge with others, to create a community of shared learners.
(Source: Free to Learn, Peter Gray; Wikipedia, Sugata Mitra)
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.