Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education

Web-Surfing Indian Slum Kids Ask: "What's a Computer" 430

Posted by chrisd
from the teach-a-man-to-fish dept.
chaoticset writes "An experiment in minimally directed self-learning has been going fairly well, from the article: To test his ideas, Sugata Mitra launched something 13 months ago he calls "the hole in the wall experiment." He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it...he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net." Update: 04/17 22:23 GMT by M : Mitra has a website about his experiments.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Web-Surfing Indian Slum Kids Ask: "What's a Computer"

Comments Filter:
  • Forcing the issue? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by KT4313 (566574)
    Reminds me oddly of the book version of 2001... Forcing a bit of odd westernization-evolution on the kids...
    • What an intriguing analogy...will we remove our obelisk when they begin to eat meat and kill one another? In other words, does the internet act as a homogenizing influence and does the internet act as a corrupting influence?

      What a great topic for an essay. Too bad I'm not in college anymore. This sounds like a great way to waste 7-10 pages.
    • by maxpublic (450413)
      Forcing a bit of odd westernization-evolution on the kids...

      Funny, I didn't see any mention of kids being held at gunpoint and commanded to use the computer.

      Max
  • draw on it? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:06PM (#3363085)
    Like with photoshop? Or with a can of spray paint?
    • by cscx (541332)
      Well, considering they are from a slum, I'd assume they'd use The PIMP. Kinda like The GIMP, but, unlike Wilber, he isn't furry, he just wears a furry hat...
  • License (Score:4, Funny)

    by QuodEratDemonstratum (569501) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:08PM (#3363090) Homepage
    It's running Windows [niitholeinthewall.com]. I hope that slum has a license.
    • Re:License (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      How right you are. he should have used a Linux distro. That way, they'd be developing their very first computer skills on a system whose UI is so tedious, they'd go back to eating rotten garbage and end their existence, and their burden on this fragile world, all the much quicker. I applaud your foresight, sir.
      • Actually it would be an interesting project in itself to put up more machines: a Mac, a Windows box, and the various Unix/Linux GUIs (maybe one KDE and one Gnome for starters, everyone knows CDE suxs ;-) ).
        Then wait and see which one gets the most attention and watch how they are used by kids who have no prior exposure to any computer GUI.

        That should tell us something about intuitive GUIs.

  • by iONiUM (530420) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:09PM (#3363094) Homepage Journal
    That people are learning so quickly on computers. Perhaps it's the missing link in quick education, we could probably educate the "ghetto" areas very quickly then.
    I'd be interested in seeing a learning curve for teachers vs. computers, and in self-learning vs. independant.
    Perhaps practical education is MUCH better than being taught, which would show that our education system is very unefficient...
  • whoa (Score:2, Funny)

    by AnimeFreak (223792)
    Shouldn't you call them "Natives" instead of "Indians?"

    Political correctness. :)
    • Hmmm... Well, where we would call Indians "Native Americans", does that make the denizens of the country south of Everest "Native Asians"?
      -russ
  • WTF (Score:2, Funny)

    by wo1verin3 (473094)
    now i have to move to new delhi for a high speed uncapped connection...grrr
  • This is incredible (Score:3, Insightful)

    by qslack (239825) <qslackNO@SPAMpobox.com> on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:10PM (#3363100) Homepage Journal
    You know, I felt discouraged with all of the dot-com bombs. It seemed as if the promise of the Internet was over.

    It's these things that remind me what the Internet is all about: learning and communication. It's not about making money (although that might work for some people). It's just about making the world a better place, one page at a time. :)

    This is seriously cool. Nobel Internet Peace Prize anyone? :)
    • by metalhed77 (250273)
      actually its about keeping government agencies and universities connected (DARPA Net).

      it's nice to bring your ideas to the table, but the net is all about 3 things.

      1. Commerce - self explanatory
      2. Self Glorification - Personal web page? yeah like you weren't trying to show off (unless its just a resume which is practical) (btw, i don't mind showing off).
      3. Communication - Communicating between different groups for BAD OR GOOD, whether world peace ensues is not the net's concern
    • by ender81b (520454) <billd@nOsPaM.inebraska.com> on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:59PM (#3363284) Homepage Journal
      I totally agree. This is remarkable and quite fascinating - the kids just invent words/metaphors for what the computer does and learn it. It is like in the old days when I learned DOS. I had no idea what stuff was called or how anything worked i just figured it out (to get games to work). This is the same type of thing only waayyyy cooler. Man is it just.. I dunno - neat. I say we give these kids an "honorary geek award" from slashdot =). THe only thing that troubled me about the article (and I mean only thing.. man is this cool) is this:

      A: There is one experiment that scares me. These children don't know what e-mail is. If I gave them e-mail, I don't know what would happen. I'll probably try it anyway. But remember the stories one used to hear about people finding lost tribes and introducing them to Coca-Cola? I'm really seriously scared about what would happen if suddenly the whole wide world had access to these kids. I don't know who would talk to them for what purpose.

      It is kindof sad in todays world that he would be afraid of what somebody would do to these kids but I understand. With all the perverts in the world... well. It just seems sad though that they are missing on a fundamental aspect of the internet because of the (literal) danger it poses to them. Plus, they would probably get spammed to death.

      The only other thing I wanted to add is just how interesting it was that they could use the web (Disney's site even!) without really knowing English. I mean, think about it. Go to some Chinese/Japanese/French/Whatever site and try using it. Almost impossible (without the fish) but here these kids have figured out how. And to think we bitch when sites use flash...

      He has my vote for some sort of award.
      • by shogun (657) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @03:51AM (#3363951)
        I'm really seriously scared about what would happen if suddenly the whole wide world had access to these kids.

        I imagine they would just suddenly have a lot of people trying to sell them printer toner, university diplomas or penis enlargers.
      • Go to some Chinese/Japanese/French/Whatever site and try using it. Almost impossible (without the fish)

        Do you really find that? Occasionally google will point me to a page in French, or German, or even Chinese (esp. if looking for GBA roms) and it's not hard to find your way around. If you're looking for a file, it's even easier. I regularly used to pick up Voodoo drivers from German sites (who seemed to be right on the ball for some reason) and, like I said, GBA Roms from Chinese and Japanese sites where I can't even understand the symbols.

        I admit I have a smattering of French and Spanish, but no other languages ('cept for English, natch), but I can usually make an educated guess as to what a web page is getting at.

        The fact that these kids are generally totally illiterate makes their achievement a lot more interesting. Also they had no (initial) idea how to navigate from page to page, why the arrow changed to a finger sometimes, what underlined phrases meant. I can't read the site right now (/.ed) but I'd expect they prefer sites with high graphic content (like stileproject [stileproject.com] perhaps?), and those that were low on text. Like most kids, probably.
    • by irony nazi (197301)
      As you might imagine, deploying Internet kiosks in economically backward parts of India
      is not quite simple. Besides the lack of infrastructure, the other challenges include providing a low-cost solution that can withstand harsh conditions like dust and extreme temperatures, and a kiosk that can be remotely administered. These and other similar requirements have led to the design for a Cognitive Kiosk for Rural, Outdoor, Tropical Environment (patent pending).
      I didn't add that last part. Please allow the irony nazi to point out that, by filing for a patent, NIIT has made deploying kiosks in third world countries even less simple.
      </irony nazi sighs>
      • by rgmoore (133276)
        Please allow the irony nazi to point out that, by filing for a patent, NIIT has made deploying kiosks in third world countries even less simple.

        Not necessarily. It will only cause problems if they adopt an obnoxious licensing policy. OTOH, if they pass out royalty free licenses to anyone who asks, they make things much simpler because then nobody else can patent the things and start charging outrageous fees. Defensive patents (i.e. ones used to prevent others from attacking you with their patents) are not a bad thing.

      • one could also reason that these technologies need to be protected from some company that wants to make money with it.

        as far as i understand, patents are meant to protect the inventors, and this is IMHO a clear cut case of a good use for a patent. the people that conduct this research appear trustworthy to me. i'd rather have them hold the patent to this setup than let some big company steal it away.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:10PM (#3363103)
    I'm picturing a ghetto kid, shoeless, standing in front of this magical screen embedded in a dingy concrete wall, and saying:
    Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these...
  • Sigh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by flacco (324089) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:10PM (#3363104)
    he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net.

    Yet our organization still has full-grown, western-educated employees who hold the fucking mouse upside-down.

    • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:18PM (#3363151)
      Dude, it's called a trackball.
      • Re:Sigh. (Score:3, Funny)

        by flacco (324089)
        Dude, it's called a trackball.

        (ha ha haaa...!)

        It took me three reads to get this; maybe I shouldn't be so critical of our users :-)

        • Whichever post wrote the "trackball" comment should be +5. After I finally finished laughing, I tried it. Of course it doesn't work, because the mouse ball rests on plastic instead of rollers.

          -Paul Komarek
    • brings a whole new meaning to that advertising slogan:

      "so easy a child could do it"... and the adult couldn't
  • not anymore.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    --
    Mitra has a website about his experiments.
    --

    Not anymore he doesn't...

    ------

    The computers used for the kiosks are all Pentium PCs with color monitors and multimedia support. The operating system is Windows(TM) (9x/NT) and the Internet browser is MS Internet Explorer(TM).

    As you might imagine, deploying Internet kiosks in economically backward parts of India is not quite simple. Besides the lack of infrastructure, the other challenges include providing a low-cost solution that can withstand harsh conditions like dust and extreme temperatures, and a kiosk that can be remotely administered. These and other similar requirements have led to the design for a Cognitive Kiosk for Rural, Outdoor, Tropical Environment (patent pending).

    An early prototype of the Hole-In-The-Wall kiosk

    Listed below are some of the typical problems encountered while deploying the Hole-In-the-Wall kiosk:
    Internet Connectivity
    Input Device
    Administration
    Heat and Dust
    Security

    Internet Connectivity

    Internet connectivity to the kiosks has been provided using various methods including leased lines, ISDN lines and Dial-up connections. Internet access in India is at a nascent stage due to inadequate telecommunications infrastructure. Some kiosk installations have been at places that don't even have phone lines. In such cases, the computers use cached web content to simulate web access. Besides this, a host of edutainment software is installed that has actually proved to be quite popular. Future design includes experimenting with remote connectivity with Wireless LAN and Wireless Telephone Line Extender.

    Back

    Input Device

    Keyboard
    There is no keyboard available to the users. This is due to the concern of vandalism. Also, it is anticipated that there would be high level of wear and tear of keys as the device is susceptible to dust, especially as the dust particles have an abrasive quality here. All this meant that the cost of maintenance of a keyboard were unacceptably high. Trials are on to see if virtual keyboards can be used.

    Pointing Device
    Touch pads were used as the pointing device during the early experiments. The touch pads were found to be wearing out quite fast or being accidentally broken by the kids. On an average the life of a touch pad was approximately 1 month. To avoid this frequent replacement of touch pads, a JoyStick Mouse was devised at CRCS. This device has a joystick control for the movement of the cursor, and a button each for left and right click. This JoyStick Mouse is quite a sturdy pointing device that is low-cost. Moreover, it requires little maintenance as compared to the touch pads.

    Back

    Administration

    Though remote administration software tools have been used in some cases, by and large, the task of administering the kiosk is accomplished manually at this point in time. But work has already begun on a Central Control Website through which it will be possible remotely administer all the kiosks that are online. The plan envisages kiosks that have embedded controllers connected to the computer giving details of the ambient variants such as temperature and humidity. The kiosks will also record the status of UPS/batteries. These records will be put on the Central Control Website, where the central observer can take actions according to the requirements. The idea of a kiosk reporting it's own "health problems", is what drives this effort.

    Back

    Heat and Dust

    To cope with the high summer temperatures, the computers are housed in a brick enclosure with thicker-than-normal walls. The enclosure that has dust filters, also minimises the dust from the dry winds. Initial experiments tried air-conditioning for tackling the heat but that turned out to be too expensive an option. It has been observed that the computers' performance is affected only marginally by the high temperatures. Therefore, for the moment, only ventillating fans have been used to maintain ambient temperature. The ventillating fans also serve to maintain positive air pressure inside the kiosk. Blowing air with high pressure checks the entry of dust particles in case of minor cracks or holes in the kiosk.

    Back

    Security

    The kiosks are unmanned and, therefore, require means for the safe-keeping of all the expensive hardware. The Hole-In-The-Wall kiosks have in-built security system the details of which cannot be divulged for obvious reasons.

    Back

  • Sociology (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kargan (250092)
    Seems to me like more of a sociology experiment than anything...

    I wonder if any prominent sociological societies or groups are aware of this project and its collected data?
  • by tcyun (80828) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:13PM (#3363120) Journal
    While the experiment sounds interesting, I have this weird feeling that the IRBs might have a few issues with this type of experiment if they were run in the United States (and by experiment, I mean controlled study run through a university). Now, the weird feeling stems from the fact that one would potentially have to answer a few questions about using human beings as unaware subjects.

    I am not saying that there are a not great deal of potential positives form this type of "experiment" as well. I just want to point out that there might be some ethical issues. I am sure there are some simple arguements that can point out the cost to implement the hole in the wall system vs. the cost to feed/educate/clothe a number of children. (The counter arguement states that if a single child is able to rise out of poverty due to the exposure to technology, the purely economic analysis states that the experiment was a win...)

    The groaning aside, it is again amazing that kids will figure out how to use stuff. It does not seem to matter who the kids are or what the stuff is, they seem to figure out how to use it.

    • by Some Dumbass... (192298) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:20AM (#3363527)
      I just want to point out that there might be some ethical issues. I am sure there are some simple arguements that can point out the cost to implement the hole in the wall system vs. the cost to feed/educate/clothe a number of children.

      You realize that by those standards, hardly any research should be done at all in the world? And on a related note, by those standards we should all sell our computers and donate the money to charity. I mean, it's amazing how much money is spent on luxuries when some people don't even have food.

      Getting back to the topic at hand, I don't think most IRBs actually care about those standards (they don't care how little we pay starving undergrads, for example...) I belive that they are more concerned about preventing physical harm or mental stress to human subjects. As long as no harm is done, and no personal information is reported (e.g. only aggregate statistical data and anonymous examples are used in papers and talks about the study), then this sort of thing should be fine.

    • Never mind the review board. I say: Just put in a clickthru agreement. This is cyberspace, after all.
    • It is a strange time in which we are living. A creepy feeling ensued from considering your question about unaware human subjects. Participating here somehow felt recursive. I find myself asking, "Consider the children... then, consider Senator Disney's SSSCA and our nation of sheep.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:13PM (#3363125)
    This company (NIIT) is well known as one of the farms for H1-Bs - (e.g. Learn HTML in 21 days and go to America). No joke - if you visit India, you see advertisements like this. They're obviously trying to get an aura of semi-legitimacy by publishing this pseudo-scientific study. Their marketing is well known, their courses - dubious at best. For example, my cousing was offered one of their courses as part of their SWIFT Start program (check out http://www.rediff.com/computer/1999/sep/04niit.htm ) a few years ago. Would go because he thought it was a useless bunch of crap.

    Would be like IIT here coming out with a "study" based on putting a computer kiosk in South Central. Wait a minute, I'd like to see that....

  • by Dancin_Santa (265275) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:14PM (#3363129) Journal
    Imagine a Bhagavad-Gita cluster of these!
  • MIE = Unschooling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Telent (567982) <telent@nOspAM.mordac.info> on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:15PM (#3363133)

    From the article:

    Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) is a pedagogic method and derives its name partly from the medical term minimally invasive surgery. MIE believes that in the absence of any directed input, any learning environment that provides adequate level of curiosity can cause learning.

    This is not a new theory, ./'ers. People have been teaching themselves all along - indeed, our school system is the newcomer to the scene. Read, oh, "A People's History of the United States"... but I'm drifting off my topic...

    An education system such as this already exists in the States. It's called "unschooling". Give the child materials to learn with, help learning when they need it, and said child will actually teach themselves.

    Children are supposedly "lazy" and "not wanting to learn" because they've been forced into it by repetitive cookie-cutter education. This study just gives an old technique a new and more politically-correct name - "unschooling" pisses off the NEA.

    • In my opinion, schooling in its current form .. (at least in the US) does almost as much harm as it does good.

      The MOST profound effect of our school system is to very effectivly prevent almost all people under the age of 18 from being a part of the force force. Imagine what would happen if tomorrow we said "OK, after age 13, school is optional. Take it now, or come back and get it later."

      Our economy would be crushed by a 300% jump in unemployment.

      • In my opinion, schooling in its current form .. (at least in the US) does almost as much harm as it does good.

        So why are we communicating in the native language of the US over a medium invented, developed, and funded by the US on a website that resides in the US?
        • I didn't say the US system was unable to produce technological advances. In fact, it's quite good at that. The US has whole lots of very well trained workers for the continued metastasis of economic growth.

        • Because we are incredibly *rich*, and have been on the winning side of wars?
        • by mpe (36238)
          So why are we communicating in the native language of the US over a medium invented, developed, and funded by the US on a website that resides in the US?

          Except that "the web" was invented by a Brit, at an international organisation, based in Switzerland.
          Also IIRC the US dosn't even pay half the cost of its international connectivity either.
    • I wonder if public school ever was supposed to be actually educational. But from my experience, at the time I thought of it like day camp. A place to put the kids while the parents worked.

      Now I see it as a camp for the indoctrination of culture. The public education system is pretty much the same from here to Alaska (skipping Canada). They have similar course structures, similar standards, etc...

      The point is to make the students all have a commonality. More than just living in the same town, state, or country, because those types of bonds aren't strong. Instead, because we share the same educational structure, we learn the same history, take the same tests, and generally learn to approach life the same way. Public School itself is another bond. No matter what state you go to, you can always find people to b*tch about the crappy public school system with.

      But looking outside the mandated structures, the school itself is a tool to be accessed by the students (like the terminal from the article). There is a wealth of possibility, not from the courses, but from the things that are ancillary to your report card. The opportunity to contribute to a newspaper, to perform in a play, sing in a chorus, or compete in a sporting event. All these things are available through the school system. The kids who benefit the most from Public School are those that approach it with curiosity.

      Sweat
      • The problem with this idea is that, in order to have access to these "extraneous" things, you have to do well enough at the stupid things which they think are the purpose of a government school education. So much so that homeschoolers are not allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities in our school district.
        -russ
    • Re:MIE = Unschooling (Score:4, Informative)

      by Pfhor (40220) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @12:15AM (#3363338) Homepage
      Exactly

      As a graduate of an Unschooling highschool (and now a freshman in college) I can say I felt much more prepared coming into college than my peers.

      There were kids on my hall with 3.8+ GPAs who had never read a book completely in 2 years. Product of a public school education.

      I wish I spent more time at mine (Only two years). Luckily, my parents were helping me be unschooled before I started there, even if they didn't realize it themselves.

      Cause I feel strongly enough about my school, I got to plug it: www.shackleton.org
      • And don't let my poor writing skills dissuade you, I believe my horrible writing ability is genetic.

        Now something for the lameness filter.
    • Re:MIE = Unschooling (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Da Schmiz (300867)
      Right on!

      I went through sixth grade in the traditional school system, and then tried several educational alternatives after that, including homeschooling, independent study, and self-directed correspondence schooling. I find I learn far more quickly and much more thoroughly on my own than in a classroom environment.

      To give you an idea: in my seventh grade year, my teacher/counselor who determined my assignments didn't believe I was a year ahead in math, so he made me repeat seventh-grade pre-algebra. I completed that, plus all the other seventh grade requirements, plus all of the eighth grade requirements, and at the end of the year I crammed enough of high school Algebra 1 to challenge the course and pass. But when I think back to that year (I was 12 at the time), I remember spending most of my time just hanging out with friends.

      Don't get me wrong -- classrooms can be great. But I have only taken one programming class so far, in my freshman year in high school. (I was actually an independent study student, so I did the majority of my schoolwork on my own, but since I was technically a student of the H.S. I could take regular classes if I wanted.) When I walked in the door, I knew more than practically every other student in the class (and nearly as much as the instructor, about some things). The only thing I really learned in that class was some basic knowledge of Pascal (which I have never used since). Everything else I know about programming (and computers in general) I learned by fiddling around.

      Sorry if that sounds excessively boastful. I'm only trying to say that most people learn better when they're learning about things that interest them, and/or when they're learning in a way that fits their intellectual aptitude and background. Obviously, self-directed learners tend to have one or both of these, and so they tend to learn more and learn it better.

      True story: a hacker friend I had in high school (if you're reading this, BaudBarf, please email me) is a very intelligent guy who could pick technical stuff up in his sleep, but he consistently flunked all his classes. It wasn't that he couldn't learn, it was that he didn't want to learn in the school environment.

      The only reason I got good grades in school was that I'm good at working the system: I remember stuff well, I comprehend almost everything I read, and I'm good at taking tests. I'm sure my success in school had nothing to do with the school environment I was subjected to.

      Now my only problem is that 90% of the things I know I have no credentials for... and testing out of college classes and passing certification tests is tedious and annoying. Oh well...

      • I was the same type of person in school as your friend. The most depressing thing isn't how worthless schooling is, but the fact that such a large chunk of our taxes are thrown away on it.
    • Give the child materials to learn with, help learning when they need it, and said child will actually teach themselves.

      Which expresses just oh so exactly what I do truely love about GNU/Linux!

      ...absence of any directed input...
      ...learning environment that provides (an) adequate level of curiosity...


      :-)
  • Funny... (Score:5, Funny)

    by KingJawa (65904) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:16PM (#3363141) Homepage
    We're amazed that a bunch of kids in India can use the web, but have no trouble believing that a survivor of war-torn Afghanistan can (a) get a Commodore on the 'net and (b) emails Jon Katz when he does.
  • by cosyne (324176) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:20PM (#3363156) Homepage
    Did anyone else read the title on this and think they'd accidentally gone to The Onion [theonion.com] instead of slashdot?
  • by bigWebb (465683) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:20PM (#3363157)
    What amused me the most was the comment about the kids doing things that adults couldn't understand. Children learn at a faster rate than adults, especially it seems where technology is concerned. This can be seen by looking at the case of programming a video. In most households it is the children who are most able to use technology to its fullest.

    I would be interested to know whether a childs ability to learn how to use computers (or other technology) is to do with their natural inquisitiveness and readiness to try new things(as opposed to the technophobia that many older people show), or whether there is some sort of 'critical period' (such as for syntax) after which it becomes more difficult to learn such things. This study would seem to suggest that it is not only the increasing contact with computers that makes children more skilled in their use, since these are kids who have never seen (or heard of) computers before.
    • by Kintanon (65528) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @12:05AM (#3363302) Homepage Journal
      The key seperating characteristic of Adults and Children is simple, Fear of Breaking Shit. Children do not have this crippling learning disability, they do not Fear to Break Shit. Adults do. So Adults will not try anything that they aren't sure will not Break Shit. Since an Adult who has never used a computer does not know what will Break Shit and what won't, they prefer to do nothing with the computer. A child doesn't care whether what he does to the computer Breaks Shit or not, he just wants to know what it will do. So every time a child does something and it doesn't Break Shit, he or she adds that act to the list of actions that Don't Break Shit and moves on. The same if the action Does Break Shit. Hopefully the child will try to fix it after he Breaks Shit, and thereby learn how to UnBreak Shit. I have formulated this theory after MANY MANY hours watching customer service reps who use the computer on a daily basis panic when they click on a different icon accidentally and a new window comes up. They call support (me) to 'Fix' their computer because it's 'Broke' by which they mean they aren't sure what actions Won't Break Shit in this situation. Amazing isn't it?

      Kintanon
      • by sphealey (2855) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @09:52AM (#3364886)
        The key seperating characteristic of Adults and Children is simple, Fear of Breaking Shit. Children do not have this crippling learning disability, they do not Fear to Break Shit. Adults do. So Adults will not try anything that they aren't sure will not Break Shit.
        Yes and no. Your theory is good and can often be observed in operation.

        Yet, having worked for almost 20 years in IT and software implementation, I have to say it is more complex than that. First, adults have to deal with something kids do not: consequences. Kid accidently deletes Paint drawing, cries a bit, sits down and does new one. Adult accidently deletes the Accounts Receivable database and remembers that he forgot to change the tape yesterday. He loses his job, and he can't borrow money from his friends because the company went out of business the next day [exaggerated for effect but more realistic scenarios are easy to construct]. When adults do things with computers, there are real effects that have real, and sometimes devastating, consequences. That can understandably create fear, keeping in mind that fear is designed to keep us alive.

        Yet even that is too simple, because some adults manage to figure out where they can safely push the barriers, and where they must call for help first. These people manage to teach themselves what they need to know, and often move up to the next level. Yet the person sitting next to an "explorer", with the same job, same educational background, same starting level of knowledge, either (a) sits paralyzed with fear (b) does random stuff until he causes real damage.

        What is the difference between these two types of people? How can they be identified in advance? Could the second type be taught to act like the first type?

        sPh

    • by rgmoore (133276)
      I would be interested to know whether a childs ability to learn how to use computers (or other technology) is to do with their natural inquisitiveness and readiness to try new things(as opposed to the technophobia that many older people show), or whether there is some sort of 'critical period' (such as for syntax) after which it becomes more difficult to learn such things.

      I'm pretty sure that it's the inquisitiveness, rather than something structural. I find that I learn a hell of a lot more than my coworkers about just about everything that we do at my work, and it's because I learn differently. Like those kids, I spend time poking around at things trying to figure out what they can do, while most other people only try to learn something new when they need it to accomplish some goal or other. Then it winds up that when they need to learn, they usually come to me because either I'll know it already or I'll be willing to poke around a bit and figure out how to do it. If you maintain that childlike love of new things and willingness to spend time exploring them, you can keep learning that way well into your adulthood.

      • Sounds like you are refering to the plasticity model, which has to do with processing visual and auditory patterns into sight and language. The brain is plastic up to (is it 3 years? 4?) certain periods, specific to input stimulie (obviously sight comes before language.) Whether the higher cognitive skills have a similar "plastic" time frame before they "set" is intriguing...
  • Hello? (Score:5, Funny)

    by anotherone (132088) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:21PM (#3363161)
    Hello?


    I am pooosting from a box in a wall.


    Have you seen this "All your base are belong to us" movie?

  • by nizo (81281) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:24PM (#3363174) Homepage Journal
    before they are writing Outlook Express viruses and hacking into bank accounts??

    Day 386, I came in and found a dozen chocolate roses with a note for me from the kids, paid for with some poor American slob's credit card.
  • by papasui (567265) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:25PM (#3363178) Homepage
    Children have the most curiosity, and the littlest fear. They will try things that people who have experienced negative results previously may not. For example: my 2 year old son can play Halo better than I can, not because I'm bad at video games but because I cannot adapt to the controls and controller the way he can. I'm still stuck in the quake mouse + keyboard point of mind.
  • by ntk (974) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:31PM (#3363195) Homepage

    "Perhaps the greatest feat came from the group at one kiosk who discovered and disabled the piece of software that Dr Mitra had installed on the machine so as to monitor their activity and relay it back to him. They sent him a message (in Hindi) that read: 'We have found and closed the thing you watch us with.'"


    That was my .sig for a while.
  • Web-Surfing Indian Slum Kids Ask: "What's a Computer"

    I heard that they are great in ASF HTTP Server [apache.org] administration. I wonder why.

    (Or are they Indians from Indies? Damn you Cristoforo Colombo!)

  • by McLuhanesque (176628) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:37PM (#3363213) Homepage
    There are some wonderful observations for educators and those providing government funding for educational infrastructure from the Hole-In-the-Wall experiment.

    Perhaps one of the most important observations made by Dr. Mitra was, "The terminology is not as important as the metaphor."

    Metaphors, by their nature are transformational. As Marshall McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media, "All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms."

    (By "medium," McLuhan means anything that we conceive or create - tangible or intangible, everything from tables to televisions to televangelists. The "message" of a medium is the set of effects or changes that the medium will induce in us, our society or culture.)

    In this case, the Indian children used metaphors to which they could relate to effect changes in, and transform, the way they experienced common-place life: Indian music, letters, Shiva's drum and so forth. In doing so, they will tend to view the rest of the world through changed eyes, and will undoubtedly "demand" (even tacitly through imagination) these new experiences. They will likely be dissatisfied with the conventional approach to instruction, perhaps preferring more self-guided, exploration and discovery-based education. What effects might this have on the educational system in India? What effects will this have on educators in North America and Europe who will be forced to confront massive investments in seemingly unnecessary "computer literacy" programs. How can approaches to adult education take advantage of child-like curiosity and discovery?

    In the graduate-level course I teach, the majority of the course is discovery and exploration. Where we end up at the end of each seminar is largely irrelevant. If we reach a point of being able to ask a profound question as a "conclusion," the seminar is a resounding success. As seen with these Indian children and Dr. Mitra's brilliant experiment, "The teacher's job is very simple. It's to help the children ask the right questions." To which I would add, adult learners, too.
    • Mr. Allen: I happen to have Marshal McLuhan right here, and he has something he'd like to say to you.

      Mr. McLuhan: You've completely misunderstood the meaning of my work. How you could have possibly been made a professor is something that I will never understand.

      Hehe. I wish I could have quoted that accurately, but it's been a while since I've seen Annie Hall. I don't actually think you misunderstood anything.
  • human subjects (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drDugan (219551) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:38PM (#3363219) Homepage
    its interesting...

    One could never do this experiement (as
    presented) in the United States (and
    probably other. more controlled societies
    as well) because you couldn't get Human
    Subjects Approval with out informed
    consent.

    It would be interesting to get some sort of
    grip the real long term effects on the
    kids will be.

    • I'm not sure why one would need Human Subjects Approval (tm) just to let kids use a web browser. Does not every bookstore and Internet cafe already let anyone use a web browser? Or if it is the collection of data about usage patterns that is requires Approval.... does not every commercial web site already collect usage data about its users?


      So what's the problem? I would think at most you could just put a little disclaimer notice next to the terminal: "this terminal is part of a usage research study. Feel free to use it, but know that you are being monitored while doing so."

      • Thats completely different because it occurs in a context where the subjects are going to have an understanding of the system and use implies consent. Ethicly, this study (in its worse interpretation) is more like statuatory rape. Consent to the unknown? Is that possible?
  • ...is irrelevant. *What* information is what is important. I can find anything and everything I need to on the net, what I can't find is WHAT to look for. Don't teach kinds facts and figures, teach kinds how to know what facts and figures they should be looking for!
  • Happens elsewhere (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raymondlowe (257081)
    I happen to live in a small town where a lot of the population are what we call "fisher people"; meaning that one (or less) generations ago they lived on fishing boats, which are their livelyhood, and had little education.

    Today the kids do go to school, and have TV and everything but life is still pretty simple for them and your typical fisher family would not have access to a PC. (though dad probably has some fancy sonar and radar on the boat)

    Well our public post offices now have free Internet Kiosks as part of a "internet for all" program; which is great.

    The other day I saw a fisher girl of about 6 in front of the terminal. I was rather surprised and had a sneaking peek over her shoulder to see what was going on.

    She had just gone to some web site which for some reason had crashed the browser. So not hesitating she brought up the task manager, killed the hung task, and loaded the browser again to continue.

    I have desktop support people who work for me in the office who are not as comfortable doing things like that!

    R.
  • Katz (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by smoondog (85133)
    I hear that Junis [slashdot.org] has offered some Commodore 64's to help out.

    -Sean
  • A good business is one which provides more and more for less and less. The cost of your goods and services should spiral downwards.

    Woah! You can tell this guy isn't working for an American software company. Must be some sort of radical socialist or something...

  • Intuition... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by _bobs.pizza_ (452394) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:27AM (#3363561)
    Just another reminder that it's not the degree you have that counts (though degrees are a good thing), it's what you can figure out / how fast you can learn & adjust to an environment that determines how productive you'll be.

    Q: Of all the things the children did and learned, what did you find the most surprising?

    A: One day there was a document file on the desktop of the computer. It was called "untitled.doc" and it said in big colorful letters, "I Love India." I couldn't believe it for the simple reason that there was no keyboard on the computer [only a touch screen]. I asked my main assistant -- a young boy, eight years old, the son of a local betel-nut seller -- and I asked him, "How on earth did you do this?" He showed me the character map inside [Microsoft] Word. So he had gotten into the character map inside Word, and dragged and dropped the letters onto the screen, then increased the point size and painted the letters. I was stunned because I didn't know that the character map existed -- and I have a PhD.
  • where a couple of years ago, my next door neighbor decided to throw away his entire old Mac setup, including the monitor, modem, keyboard, mouse, and all of the cables. Everything worked - I grabbed it when I got home. The local kids' response? To spraypaint black graffitti on the monitor. No one thought to take it and play with it, and I'm pretty sure that it this neighborhood computer ownership was pretty low.
  • The image of a huge wall that separates a handful of elite technologists from people who live in such abject poverty and squalor that they use this vacant lot as an open-air toilet is incredibly disturbing.

    From a typical techno-geek perspective, yes this is an interesting experiment. But take a step back. Psychosocial experiments, especially those involving children, have strict ethical protocols that must be followed -- at least in North America and Europe they do. Was this a relatively benign experiment? It sounds like it was (the site is down so I can't say one way or the other) but that is not the issue. One of the key principles in experimentation is informed participation, and minors cannot give consent to participate. The purpose is to prevent exploitation.

    Food, shelter and decent living conditions come far higher on my list of priorities than learning how to surf the Web. I wonder if the experimenter thought about what the potential health consequences might be for children spending more time hanging around such unsanitary conditions as a result of his kiosk.

    Technology does not exist for technology's sake. At it's best, technology exists to improve people's lives.

    Perhaps NIIT should see what it can do to improve lives and alleviate the misery in the slums that surround its campus instead of sticking Web terminals into walls to see how the local troglodyte children react to it while standing ankle-deep in human waste.

    • I think the hope is access to information (and improvements in teaching) will give the country the intellectual capital needed to raise out of that.

      The real ethical issue, as I see is, is the introduction of an appealing forigen culture into the native population. I don't know how that will turn out in the end.

Money is the root of all evil, and man needs roots.

Working...