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

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

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

    by KT4313 ( 566574 ) on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:04PM (#3363082)
    Reminds me oddly of the book version of 2001... Forcing a bit of odd westernization-evolution on the kids...
  • MIE = Unschooling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Telent ( 567982 ) <telent AT mordac DOT 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.

  • 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.
  • Oh look its here (Score:-1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:20PM (#3363159)
    The obligatory anti-ms post which is required in any slashdot article even when the article does not mention anything to do with software.

    And you all wonder why this site is the laughing stock of every other weblog and disucssion site on the planet?
  • Some deeper thought (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:21PM (#3363162)
    I find it very outstanding that someone would take the time and effort to do a project like this. Now, if they implemented something that made them do a math question before they could draw on the screen, or surf the web. Say every 10 minutes, what is 4 + 2 ? or 2 x 2 ? So not only are they learning how to draw and surf the web, they are learning simple mathmatics that they normally wouldn't in such an environment. I think this is a great idea, and if they presue this that it might actually give a kid that is say 12 or 13, the interest to want to do better, have a higher self-esteem, and WANT to goto school. I am sure that in such an environment that they probably don't goto school and have no reason to want to.

    All I have to say is keep up the good work, that is an excellent idea, with true feelings put into the project. I have read a few other posts regarding this matter, I think most people fail to see why it was done and what they are trying to accomplish. It's a pity some just can't look at the bigger picture.

  • 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.
  • 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

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

  • something simliar (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 17, 2002 @11:43PM (#3363237)
    in that "Hackers" book by Stephen Levy .. but i dont remember the exact idea ... something in San Francisco and a terminal in the wall -- maybe someone else could elaborate
  • Happens elsewhere (Score:2, Interesting)

    by raymondlowe ( 257081 ) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @12:06AM (#3363304)
    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!

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @12:30AM (#3363380)
    > How long to learn how to h4x0r an unpatched IIS server they came across while surfing?

    I owe my career - my life - to this sort of experiment, except that at the time, nobody knew it was an experiment.

    My first encounter with a computer was on a "professional activity day" - the teachers take the day off to eat donuts (the professional activity), and the kids get the day off school.

    My folks, unable to find a babysitter that day, took me to work. Mom worked in a place with an Apple ][ that was used to do data entry and run rudimentary statistical analyses.

    I was left alone in an office at age 10ish with a computer and two complete strangers.

    Stranger: "How 'bout playing with the computer?"

    Me: "What do you do with it?"

    Stranger: [wanting the kid to stop bugging her so she could get some work done] "Well, we use it to enter our test data. You might want to try those books in the bottom shelf."

    Me: [Picks up an Applesoft BASIC guide, concludes that "programming them" is what one does with "computers", and doesn't say a word for the rest of the day]. I was hooked by that afternoon. Went through the book that day, then hit the campus bookstore, bought a magazine with some programs you could type in, came back and "played with it" on the rare occasions I could.

    A year (only about 6 "professional activity days", and maybe a couple of hours a week during the summer holiday) later, and I'd found the monitor ROM and was experimenting with 6502 assembly.

    So in answer to your question - probably about 6 months, tops.

  • by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:04AM (#3363472) Homepage
    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.

  • Re:MIE = Unschooling (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Da Schmiz ( 300867 ) <slashdot@pryden. n e t> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:19AM (#3363525) Homepage
    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...

  • Re:Sick (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vidarh ( 309115 ) <> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @07:25AM (#3364348) Homepage Journal
    I'm completely disgusted that you don't give all your belongings away to the less fortunate. How come you have time and money to throw away on computers and access to the internet to read slashdot, while people are starving.

    Ok. Enough of the sarcasm. I agree with you that more should be done to fight poverty. But instead of complaining about an experiment that included one PC being made available to poor kids, and the person doing the experiment pushing ahead to get funding for more access to technology for underprivileged illiterate kids, you might instead try to direct your complaints against people who do nothing.

    Yes, he isn't giving them food or shelter, but he isn't solely responsible for stopping poverty in the world. However giving these kids knowledge is as important as a long term strategy to help people out of poverty as food and shelter is as a short term strategy. Both is needed. Without better education most of these kids will never get out of poverty.

    Do you seriously prefer to make people stay dependent on charity?

    Of course your complaint about "Western civilization" is quite amusing when the article is about an experiment being done in India, by an employee of an Indian company.

  • 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?


  • by sisukapalli1 ( 471175 ) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @11:50AM (#3365576)
    Familiarity with computers without the background education in reading, writing, composition, and comprehension, not to mention basic math and science will take a person only so far.

    Most westerers are appalled when they see a eight year old kid repairing motor vehicles in the streets in India, but would not think it is as bad helping the people to be "skilled" in just using computers.

    Many experienced "programmers" these days with fancy "java/c++/oracle" education are finding it hard to get a job. What use would computers be to these kids other than trianing them to become a "consumer"?

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by markmoss ( 301064 ) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @02:00PM (#3366886)
    The mouse was invented in the 60's, IIRC, but it pretty much stayed in the lab until the 80's. Partly this was because machines with enough graphical capability for a mouse to be really useful cost around $50,000 -- maybe you'd find one in an engineering workstation, but not anything 99% of people could ever get their hands on. But arcade video games started in the 70's; these could cost over $50,000, and some did need a good pointing device. Put a mouse on them, and frustrated customers would have torn the thin, flexible cord right off. So they turned the mouse upside down (and expanded it to bowling-ball size, IIRC) and mounted it in the console so only the ball was exposed.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"