The Hole-in-the Wall Beyond Computer Literacy
NIIT’s Hole-in-the-Wall initiatives have essentially made a significant difference in the learning outcomes of children, promoting selflearning, providing opportunities for articulation and expression and even improved social cohesion. With an established model, NIIT extents these initiatives through colloboration ith state governments in India
hardware and software innovations made to ensure computers work in harsh, unsupervised conditions. Most people tend to think of the Hole-inthe- Wall as an interesting method for children to learn to use a computer. But is that all there is to it?
Extending the model
Once the viability of the model was proven in terms of acquisition of functional computer literacy, we started exploring applications of the model in other domains of learning. The most obvious extension was elementary education because the age group of children we were studying was 6-14 years. Several studies measuring the learning achievement of children in curricular subjects showed that the Hole-in-the-Wall was making a significant difference to learning outcomes. From what we understand of the Hole-in-the-Wall pedagogy, the outcomes are not merely a matter of the children accessing educational content on the computer. There are two critical factors that influence outcomes. First, the outdoor playground setting changes the mindset of the children. They don’t think of it as a structured educational intervention, but interact in a playful exploratory way. And second, children always work in groups at a learning station. The constant conversation, challenging of assumptions and teaching each other creates an extremely rich learning environment. One of the biggest gaps in current teaching practices in rural schools is the lack of opportunities for articulation and expression. Children do not have a voice. Articulation is a critical aspect of any form or level of learning and especially important in early schooling. At Hole-in-the-Wall learning stations, children are engaged in projects such as creating photodocumentaries on the computer. ot only does this provide opportunities to use interesting new equipment and software, but also changes the perceptions of the children. Looking at their lives through a camera lens, and attempting to write commentary on what they see, raises questions in their minds that would otherwise never surface. If the Hole-in-the- Wall does indeed improve learning outcomes at the elementary level, is it a viable solution within the framework of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (India’s ‘Education for All’ program)? Two States have decided to find an answer to this question with pilot projects in rural schools. Rajasthan was the first early adopter of this innovation. The first project in four upper-primary schools in Jhalawar district is currently being implemented. Soon after, Jammu
& Kashmir decided to implement a pilot project in four districts, including in the Kashmir valley. The educational establishment, and especially the government bureaucracy, is often criticized for its lack of motivation and its unwillingness to make real contributions. The willingness of the governments of Rajasthan and Jammu & Kashmir to try a new and unusual pedagogy shows that this criticism is not entirely justified. Another recent project we are really
excited about is in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh (AP). The Department of Tribal Welfare of AP wanted to test the idea of Hole-in-the- Wall in a few tribal schools, and we were all too happy to accept the challenge. These will be the first implementations of Hole-in-the-Wall in tribal areas and our learning from
this project will certainly lead to further innovations and strengthening of the model. Beyond Basic Literacy When the Delhi Government did a survey of the community in Madangir, New Delhi, which is home to our longest-running project, two very interesting ideas emerged. 85% of the respondents said that the Hole-in-the- Wall helps develop confidence and pride in children. Also, 79% of the respondents agreed that these learning stations improve social cohesion. In our informal interactions with the community, we heard that petty crime in the area had reduced. Are we onto something much larger than just computer literacy and elementary education? This is exactly the question we are attempting to answer in a research project recently started in Chharanagar, Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat. This project is being done in collaboration with Sneh Prayas, a reputed local NGO. But first, a little bit about the Chharas. Formerly nomads, the Chharas were included in the list of criminal tribes by the British and virtually imprisoned in labor camps. In 1952, the Criminal Tribes Act of 1911 was finally repealed, and the Chharas were resettled in the outskirts of Ahmedabad. However, even today the Chharas continue to be discriminated against in education and employment. And the reputation of Chharanagar as the brewing center of illicit liquor in an otherwise dry state doesn’t help either. The Hole-in-the-Wall project in Chharanagar is an attempt to study the relationship between collaborative, informal learning and
the perceptions and achievement motivation of children. We hope
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