Started as a research initiative to know how children can learn digitally without the intervention of adults by setting up a computer in the wall in a playground, Hole- In- The Wall, today has 200+ Learning Stations all across India.
Digital learning has been used extensively in our schools and colleges for the last few years. But unfortunately, it’s only limited to educational institutes in Metropolitan cities and when it comes to small villages and very remote areas, the concept of e-learning is restricted to probably just textbooks. It’s sad but then let us also tell you that many people and organizations are working towards this to bridge the gap and one such initiative is Hole- In- The Wall. As interesting as its name, this project was started by Dr. Sugata Mitra in 1999 as a research initiative with one computer on a wall.
“The idea started with the curiosity to know how the slum kids will react to the technology in their own familiar environment. A playground was chosen to set up the computer by actually carving a “hole in the wall” that separated the NIIT premises from the adjacent slum in Kalkaji in New Delhi. The team had put up a freely accessible computer with internet for use. And decided to see how the kids would react to it”, said Purnendu Hota, Sr. General Manager of Hole In The-Wall project.
Testing the hypothesis and setting up more learning stations across India
This learning station was a big hit and became popular among the slum kids in no time. They in fact started bringing their friends along. And were able to use the computer on their own without any guidance.
” It was interesting how the children could operate the computer on their own without the presence of any elder. And it took them hardly 2 -3 days. We found out that the computer can be used very well outside the classroom or in a computer lab in an open environment. It was also fun to see how the kids were relating the computer with different things. For example, one of the kids was asked about the cursor, and said it was like Arjun’s arrow “, he added.
After this, Dr. Mitra proposed a hypothesis that was later proven true. It stated that 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.
“Earlier the project was called Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) but later when the media covered us and started calling it Hole- In- The- Wall, we changed its name. In 2004, it even reached Cambodia followed by many African countries and Bhutan through the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. The initial project funding comes in part from the Indian government, the World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation”, he added. Currently, Hole-in- the-Wall Learning Station project is implemented by NIIT Foundation, as a part of the CSR initiative of many corporates to support children with digital learning in remote and rural villages of India.
Challenges and more
As the project aims at promoting digital literacy in remote villages, and slums, there were many
challenges that the team had to face. From protecting the computer equipment to understanding
what works, monitoring the system’s health, and creating educational content accordingly to much
” The computers are kept in a metal box in such a way that the kids can’t touch the screen. We
had to face a lot of trouble when it came to using the mouse. During the initial years of implementation, The kids would take out the ball part of the mouse and play games with that. We then had to put the joystick but the children would hang themselves with it. After that, we tried the touchpad but later found out the kids loved scratching it. Finally, in 2010 we came out with the Tobu mouse. This one had no moving part and it has worked for us”, he said.
Another fun fact about this initiative is that it was the inspiration behind the book on which the
academy award winner Slumdog Millionnaire was based. ” It was the loose adaptation of Q & A (2005) by Indian author Vikas Swarup. The writer took his inspiration from our project. He used to come to our station and interact with the founder. It’s not shown in the movie but yes the book talks about it”, he concluded.