Independent Learning Through a Hole in the Wall


Recently, Dr. Sugata Mitra was awarded the 2013 TED Prize.  This prestigious honor grants him $1 million to build a learning laboratory based on his ‘hole in the wall’ principles and experiment. 

The whole idea is to develop learning environments in which teachers are merely facilitators and coaches for children who teach themselves by collaborating together at computer terminals.

His original ‘hole in the wall’ experiment was first performed in India 14 years ago. Dr. Mitra noticed that many wealthy parents believed that their sons and daughters must be gifted – mainly because they were good with computers.  Since we know that gifted kids are not only born to rich parents, why wouldn’t there be similarly ‘gifted’ kids in the slums of India?  Dr. Mitra was curious to see what would happen when he gave an internet-connected computer to the kind of kids who never had one.

He found that the children from the slums learned how to surf within hours.  It was a little bit of a surprise.  To make a long story short, kids would teach themselves whatever they had to use the computer – that’s how attractive the technology was for them.

14 years ago, the question this lead them to was ‘what does this mean for training?’  Mainly due to the fact that 14 years ago, people needed to be trained to use computers.  Dr. Mitra pointed out that it looked like they didn’t need to provide training to children on computers.

Minimally Invasive Education

He then developed an innovative learning methodology called Minimally Invasive Education.  This was first tested in a slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi, in 1999.  The experiment was also replicated in two other rural sites in the same year.  The first adopter of this idea was the Government of NCT of Delhi.  In the year 2000, the Government of Delhi set up 30 Learning Stations in a re-settlement colony.  This project is still ongoing and continues to create tremendous impact for generations of young learners.   In 2004, the Hole-in-the-Wall reached Cambodia through the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

Now, the program is scaled up to make a significant contribution to improving elementary education and life skills of children around the world – particularly those in disadvantaged communities in isolated rural areas and urban slums.

As a concept, Hole-in-the-Wall has multiple dimensions and a potential which is virtually limitless. What it offers someone depends on the perspective one is looking from.

For experts, like Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, Hole-in-the-Wall is a ‘Shared Blackboard’ which children in underprivileged communities can collectively own and access, to express themselves, to learn, to explore together, and at some stage to even brainstorm and come up with exciting ideas.

For villagers, it is more like a village Well, where children assemble to draw knowledge and, in the process, engage in meaningful conversation and immersive learning activities that broaden their horizons.

The learning station is set up in an outdoor playground setting which children can access at any time. It ensures that girls, who would generally not be sent to closed room housing a computer, can now easily access the Learning Station in an open setting.

The playground setting offers a host of other advantages. Unconditional access to Learning Stations ensures that both children in-school and out-of-school can use them. Another advantage is that the unstructured nature of this setting also ensures that children themselves take ownership of the Learning Station by forming self-organized groups who learn on their own. Finally an unsupervised setting ensures that the entire process of learning is learner-centric and is driven by a child’s natural curiosity.


About the Author

I am a soccer mom, musician, Beatles fanatic,dreamer, chocolate chip cookie maker, and passionate advocate and evangelist for cleantech and cleanweb causes, organizations, and companies that make the planet better in all ways.