New style hole-in-the-wall

NIIT, a training and development company based in New Delhi, has conducted an interesting education experiment. They carved a niche in a wall built to separate the corporate building from the slum next door and built in a computer permanently connected to the Internet. The computer is protected from the weather by a glass screen. Rather than use a keyboard, a touch pad was initially installed, which has now been changed to a joystick. Real 'no strings attached' access was given to anyone wanting to try it out. A video camera was set up in a near-by tree to watch the results.

Inquisitive children, most of whom do not go to school or speak anything other than Hindi, investigated, experimented and within a short time had got to grips with the basics. Not being familiar with techno jargon has not inhibited their learning at all. Our 'mouse' is their 'needle' and our 'web-sites', their 'channels'. Our 'hourglass' busy symbol is their 'damru'; an hourglass shaped drum shaken by the god Shiva.

With no instruction the children have made vast progress, acquiring general computing skills as well as Internet skills. One young man who loves using the computer does not want to follow in his father's footsteps and be a blacksmith, but be a 'computerman' when he grows up.

In a county of over 1 billion people, there are only 1 million subscribers to the Internet in India. South Asia, home to a fifth of the world's population, has only 1% of the world's Internet subscribers - there is still a long way to go.


Originally published: October 2000 -- This page last updated: 9th February 2001