Delhi children make play of the net

From: Eugene Leitl (
Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 07:33:02 MDT

(((important enough to be posted verbatim. Young Lady's Illustrated
   Primer to follow, I hope)))

Delhi children make play of the net

The slum children figured out how to use the computer

In the slums of Delhi, an experiment has shown how illiterate street
children can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computers and the

The aim of the experiment, funded by the Indian Government, local
institutions and the World Bank was to see what role computers might play
in educating India's illiterate millions.

The results were startling, showing how much children with little or no
English and no computer training at all could achieve.

Simple idea

The project was the brainchild of Sugata Mitra, who spearheads research
and development at NIIT, a training and software company in Delhi.

His idea was simple. He installed a computer on the wall of his south
Delhi office that was facing a slum and watched what happened.

Children in the slum were intrigued by the icons on the computer, and
completely without any help, gradually figured out how to use the
computers and access the internet.

"What they would see is the opening screen of They started
fiddling around with the touchpad and quickly noticed that finger
movements on the touchpad moved something on the screen," said Mr Mitra
told the BBC World Service's Go Digital.

"That caused a lot of consternation and they called all their friends to
see this new television where you can actually move something with your

"Very quickly, they discovered that the cursor changes to a hand shape
when you bring it close to an underlined word and then accidentally
discovered that you can change pages.

All this happened within minutes and so that by about the eighth minute
they were actually surfing."

Painting and downloading music

Mr Mitra found that within days the children were able to browse the
internet, cut and paste copy, drag and drop items and create folders.

One of the things they particularly liked was drawing, discovering how to
use the MSpaint programme to create paintings.

The children then moved on to downloading games and playing then. They did
not stop there.

By the second month they had discovered MP3 music files and they were
downloading songs.

"All this happened as far as I can tell from incidental learning and peer
to peer learning," said Mr Mitra.

The 'hole-in-the-wall' experiment has been repeated several times in
places like Madantusi near Lucknow and the results have been mostly

"Computers are really hard to use, they're not intuitive. they're not
obvious, they complicated and clunky and tend to do the wrong things at
the wrong time," said new media consultant Bill Thompson.

"But with children, if you give them free access to a computer, they will
learn very quickly. They will adapt and will really exploit the system to
get the most out of it."

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