Sugata Mitra – Hole in the Wall

Media in the Online Age

Minimally invasive education (MIE) is a form of learning in which children operate in unsupervised environments. The methodology arose from an experiment done by Sugata Mitra while at NIIT in 1999, often called The Hole in the Wall, which has since gone on to become a significant project with the formation of Hole in the Wall Education Limited (HiWEL), a cooperative effort between NIIT and the International Finance Corporation, employed in some 300 ‘learning stations’, covering some 300,000 children in India and several African countries.

Sugata MitraThe Hole in the Wall Experiment

On 26 January 1999, Por 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 popular among the slum children. With no prior experience, the children learned to use the computer on their own. This prompted Mitra to propose the following hypothesis:  The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.

In the following comment on the TED website Mitra explains how they saw to it that the computer in this experiment was accessible to children only:

“… We placed the computers 3 feet off the ground and put a shade on top, so if you are tall, you hit your head on it. Then we put a protective plastic cowl over the keyboard which had an opening such that small hands would go in. Then we put a seating rod in front that was close to the wall so that, if you are of adult height, your legs would splay when you sit. Then we painted the whole thing in bright colours and put a sign saying ‘for children under 15’. Those design factors prevented adult access to a very large extent.” 

Results

Mitra has summarised the results of his experiment as follows. Given free and public access to computers and the Internet, a group of children can

  • Become computer literate on their own, that is, they can learn to use computers and the Internet for most of the tasks done by lay users.
  • Teach themselves enough English to use email, chat and search engines.
  • Learn to search the Internet for answers to questions in a few months time.
  • Improve their English pronunciation on their own.
  • Improve their mathematics and science scores in school.
  • Answer examination questions several years ahead of time.
  • Change their social interaction skills and value systems.
  • Form independent opinions and detect indoctrination.

Here is one of his TED Talks where he talks about it in more detail:

So what we have here are great examples of how ‘Media in the Online Age’ has had a positive impact on the world, and in particular, in parts of the world that are often neglected. You can use Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment as a strong example to support ideas from Gauntlet (Web 2.0/3.0), Shirky (social and economic effect of social media and digital technologies), Jenkins (Convergence) and many more.

But what are your thoughts? Things to consider:

  • Does the ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment devalue education? What would Andrew Keen think about this?
  • What criticisms of the experiment can you discover?  
  • What are the long terms consequences of this experiment?
  • What Media in the Online Age theories can you connect to this?
  • How can you use it in your exam? 
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Author: reno

I teach Media, Film, Video Games and Photography college level in the UK. I'm really into education technologies and creativity. I'm on Instagram.

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