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Hole in the Wall

Hole in the Wall is a project addressing digital divide? and access to education in developing nation?s.

It is often favourably compared to the One Laptop Per Child initiative, as a much more practical way to work in developing nations.

A 2005 BBC story(external link) reports that "simply providing children with a PC and seeing what happens" in many places across India? has yielded outstanding results:

"Children teach themselves to use technology, without even realising it... Most people at Vivekananda Camp had never touched or used a computer. Then three came along at once.

It is part of a scheme called Hole in the Wall. Over the past six years more than 40 site?s have been established across India - all with similar results. The researchers behind the project gave no explanations. They just wanted to see what the children would make of them, as Manas Chakrabarti?, the head of Hole in the Wall Education Ltd, explained."

Chakrabart says "There were hundreds of children who wanted to take a look at this new toy that had come up. Our approach is that we don't really intervene at that time. We let them realise that if they take turns and organise themselves it works out very well for them."

The BBC reported that "far from being baffled, children from all sorts of backgrounds, it appears, can work out how to use many of the applications for themselves...With no teachers around, the children have formed their own groups, sharing what they discover with others: how to make the window larger or smaller for instance."

Shiffon Chatterjee?, a researcher for the project, says: "Nine months on, what we observe is that the initial chaos seems to have subsided, and the children now are doing a variety of things - lots of things in word processing, paint, using the internet for a variety of purposes, making their photos on the computer."

While "down the road the local school offers more traditional computer classes", "this is expensive and not an option open to those in the slums or in some rural villages. Open access to the public computers, for up to 10 hours a day, means more children get hands-on experience here than at the school."

innovations


Like most difficult driving problems?, the project has sparked some innovation. The interface offers specially designed educational tools to help with applications like e-mailing.

The "conditions in the slum are tough, both for those living here and for maintaining PCs" Accordingly "the computers have to be able to withstand a pounding from users. Temperatures can climb to 45 degrees. So the computers are self-regulating, automatically switching off if it gets too hot or humid. And fluctuations in electricity are regulated by an uninterrupted power supply? unit." The challenging conditions and power cuts mean the PCs are operational for around 75% of the target 10 hours a day.

"The kids' playful behaviour" however, is harder to deal with. Manas Chakrabarti? says "Children are not very gentle with computers. They hammer on the keyboard, they pull the mouse. So we found the regular mouse did not work. We changed it first to a touch-pad, but found that didn't work because children scratch it with a stone. We moved to a joy-stick, but that didn't work very well because it jammed up with dust. Now we've designed a touch mouse which has no moving parts and is virtually indestructible."

He also reports some software challenges. "They actually started opening up as many windows as they could, and were exploring the computer, and soon the computer would just hang and stop working. To stop that we created a little utility, called anti-hang, which stops the number of windows at five and doesn't allow a sixth window to open up, so virtually it stops the computer from hanging."

impact


"The project team's own research suggests that around eight out of 10 people who live in a deprived area like this one believe the computers are having a positive impact. "

"But the scheme has its critics too, some of whom argue that the cost of putting in a system like this would be much better spent on providing clean water? and healthcare."

However the project has been very useful to the disabled?.
Parents of one child, Raj, born deaf and dumb, "proudly explain" how Raj has now found something he is good at: "He's more confident now, and even teaches some of the older children how to use the computers", they say. Disabled kids in rural India face extremely bleak prospects of escaping poverty.

"The Hole in the Wall company does not claim this is a perfect replacement for structured learning, but believes it is a cost effective way of introducing computers to many communities in the developing world."

what do they look at?


The BBC reports that "At a nearby lab, records are kept on what they are being used for, including which internet sites the children are visiting."

"Movie and sports pages are most popular, although a few of the older children have discovered internet dating. That is being discouraged, and in extreme cases sites can be blocked. "


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