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This discussion has been archived.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:
  • 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...
  • not anymore.... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:11PM (#3363107)
    --
    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

  • 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....

  • Dial-up and ISDN (Score:3, Informative)

    by yerricde (125198) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:28PM (#3363189) Homepage Journal

    So what's their connection at? I bet its the good old fashiond 65 baud tin can and string.

    Hardly an acoustic coupler. From the article [niitholeinthewall.com]:

    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.

    The following was more interesting:

    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.

    That must be a pretty d*ng big cache. How many clicks is it from the average US site to WinMX.com or Kazaa.com? (WinMX and Kazaa are two popular P2P file-sharing apps for Windows.)

  • 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
  • by irony nazi (197301) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @12:28AM (#3363368)
    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 Gibbys Box of Trix (176568) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @04:29AM (#3364036) Journal
    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.

Counting in octal is just like counting in decimal--if you don't use your thumbs. -- Tom Lehrer

Working...