At the edge of a slum in New Delhi, India, sits the offices of one of India’s biggest IT training companies, NITT. One day, one of its then directors, Prof. Sugata Mitra, se
t up an experiment. He knocked a hole in the wall of the office which faced into the slum, and put in a PC and monitor equipped with Windows (in English) a broadband connection and a touch pad. He set up a couple of cameras and microphones and observed the local kids over the next few weeks. These kids had rarely been to school, had never seen a PC, spoke no English and, most importantly, had no adult tutor to help them, no manuals, nothing. After two days they’d worked out how to use the paint program, and had painted on the screen the one English word they knew: Love. After a week, they’d located Hindi music on the web and were downloading and listening to mp3 files. After a year, measured their capacity for practical skills and theoretical understanding, against kids who’d been taught IT in school. As you might expect, their theoretical understanding was not as good as the taught kids, but their practical skills were, to everyone’s surprise, quantifiably better. Prof. Mitra was so intrigued by this that he sent a team of researchers in to find out how they’d done it. They began by asking the kids how, just by teaching themselves, they’d become so good at using a computer. And they said ‘What’s a computer?
The Hole in The Wall project has now spread all over India and Cambodia, and is being investigated by governments in Afghanistan and Africa. But I think there’s a lot, in its understanding of how we learn, which we, in the overdeveloped world, can learn from this example of what Prof. Mitra calls ‘minimally invasive education’