|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2004, 20(3), 337-350.
Earlier work often referred to as the "hole in the wall" experiments has shown that groups of children can learn to use public computers on their own. This paper presents the method and results of an experiment conducted to investigate whether such unsupervised group learning in shared public spaces can improve children's performance in school examinations. The experiment was conducted with "hole in the wall" (minimally invasive education, or MIE) kiosks in the rural Sindhudurg District of Maharashtra State, India. 103 children of the Grade 8 level, across 3 villages, were administered the curricular examination for 'Computer Science' for that grade.
The results show that children who had learned at MIE kiosks were able to complete this curricular examination without being taught the subject. They scored only marginally lower than children who had been taught the 'Computers' curriculum in school throughout the school year. The results of this study throw new light on pedagogy for bridging the digital divide. It poses the question that similar learning may well be observed in whole or part in other subjects of the school curriculum.
The experiments were first conducted in Kalkaji, a suburb of New Delhi, India. A computer was connected to the Internet and embedded into a brick wall near a slum. It was reported that most of the slum children were able to use the computer to browse, play games, create documents and paint pictures within a few days. The results have, since then, been reported in detail, elsewhere (see, for example, Frontline World 2002, Education Guardian 2000, Businessweek Online 2000, Mitra 2000, Mitra 2003 and Wullenweber 2001).
The experiments were described by Mitra and Rana as "minimally invasive", a term borrowed from surgery (Mitra and Rana 2001, Mitra 2003), and indicative of minimal human intervention. Mitra further explained the term in an interview to Businessweek Online.
I'm saying that, in situations where we cannot intervene very frequently, you can multiply the effectiveness of 10 teachers by 100 - or 1,000 - fold if you give children access to the Internet.... This is a system of education where you assume that children know how to put two and two together on their own. So you stand aside and intervene only if you see them going in a direction that might lead into a blind alley. That's just so that you don't waste time... (Mitra, Businessweek Online 2000)Presently, such "Hole in the wall" facilities, also known as "Minimally Invasive Education kiosks" (MIE kiosks) have been set up in 22 rural and urban locations across India and similar results are reported through field observations as well as through the GUI Icon Association Inventory test (Mitra 2003) administered to children. Observations across locations show a learning process of random exploration, collaboration, discovery, vocabulary construction, generalisation, practice and peer tutoring (Mitra and Rana 2001, Mitra 2003). The kiosk experiments are being repeated in Egypt, South Africa and Cambodia.
A design for kiosks meant for use by children in outdoor environments has been developed and tested in various experiments, and is considered robust.
In what follows, we are testing the following hypotheses:
If given appropriate access, connectivity and content, groups of children can learn to operate and use computers and the Internet to achieve a specified set of the objectives of primary education, with none or minimal intervention from adults.The intent of this paper is to present the results of an empirical investigation. Placing these results in a theoretical framework is not the intent of this paper.
Three kiosks were connected to the Internet via VSAT in June 2004, when the final version of this paper was written. Access to Internet content is also provided in an offline form. The offline content includes educational games and freeware from the Internet, mostly in English.
The kiosks in Sindhudurg are fitted with TOBU mice and keyboards as input devices. The design for these has evolved over the years since the first 'hole in the wall' in 1999. At the time, a touch pad was the input device embedded in the wall next to the monitor. Between 1999-2000 these off the shelf touch pads were replaced with custom made, joystick style mice. Although this did significantly increase the mean time between failures, the mechanical failures in these were not entirely eliminated. This led to the development of a six-button mouse, deployed in many kiosks. However, in humid and corrosive air, such as near tropical oceans, the switches in these mice developed faults. Finally, the development of the capacitative TOBU mouse in 2003 by the laboratories of NIIT's Center for Research in Cognitive Systems solved the problem of an outdoor pointing device. This mouse is entirely solid state and has no moving parts. Eighty-eight of these have been in operation for over a year in all parts of India.
Figure 1: Photo of the TOBU Mouse
Also, the first experiment of 1999 did not provide for keyboard access, as architectural designs for protecting standard keyboards in public access environments were not developed at the time. Since then NIIT has developed a sturdy cowl to protect keyboards with enough space for a child's hands to go through and access. The touch button mice are now embedded within the cowl keyboard structure. Over the 4-year period from 1999-2003, research in engineering design has made the present input devices rugged and tamper proof.
Each machine contains a remote monitoring software program to track usage of various software applications in the machines, as well as environmental conditions.
The kiosks are placed in playgrounds or close to schools (Figures 2 and 3). Rural children between the ages of 8-14 are presently using these kiosks, many with no previous exposure to computers. The local language is Marathi. This is also the language of instruction in the village schools. English is learned as a second language from Grade 1.
Figure 2: Photo of an MIE kiosk, Sindhudurg
"Computers" is offered as an optional subject in some village schools at the Grade 8 level along with leatherwork, sewing and carpentry. Only a few are selected into the computer class at school, due to limited capacity. Selection depends on merit and past academic performance.
In June 2002 a local computer teacher reported a saving of 10% of his teaching time in the computers class because his students had been exploring at the kiosk (Attar, June 2002). This gave us reason to conjecture that students who were not part of the school computer class may well be able to attempt some part of the curricular examination without being taught. To probe this further, in November 2002 we conducted a short study, to see how children who have learned at MIE kiosks fare on the Grade 8 examination for the Computer Science syllabus, without being taught the syllabus.
Figure 3: Photo of children at the kiosk
Six children aged thirteen years (three boys and three girls) were tested on a 2 hour 45 minute curricular examination in computer science. The exam was worth a total of 100 marks, split between 'theory' (60 marks) and 'practicals' (40 marks). The minimum score required for passing the examination was 35%. All six students passed the practical exam with very good scores. Two students were close to passing the theory examination, while four did not. The results were intriguing.
We decided to examine larger numbers of children through an experimental study of MIE children's performance on two aspects of the Grade 8 'Computers' exam:
Groups of children with appropriate public access to the computers and the Internet can meet the minimum levels required by the Maharashtra State Education Board computers syllabus for Grade 8, with none or minimal intervention from adults
School going rural children aged 12-13 years, of Maharashtra State, Sindhudurg District, with access to MIE kiosks.
|Age||MIE kiosk learning||Classroom computer teaching||Hours of computer handling/ exposure||English language teaching in school||Medium of|
|Experimental Group||Kalse + Shirgao||N=30|
The first phase tested the students on the practical examination. The 70-minute practical examination was conducted on all 3 groups at the computer lab facilities of Shirgao High School and Kalse High School. The student to machine ratio was 1:1. Each student was handed a question set of exercises.
In the second phase, the theory examination was administered to all groups. Prior to the examination, each of the students in the experimental group was handed the Grade 8 'Computers' textbook and was told that the exam would follow in a month. Control Group A was not handed the book, to check the results given no inputs whatsoever. The book is a standard text used for curricular teaching for Control Group B.
All 3 groups were administered the 90-minute written theory examination in their respective schools (Table 1). The examination was conducted in Marathi, the language of instruction. This was followed by an oral examination of 5 minutes per student, conducted in Marathi.
A schoolteacher from Shirgao who teaches computers set the examination papers, monitored the examination as well as graded all students. All of these activities were conducted as per Maharashtra State Education Board norms. The computer teacher is a Maharashtra State Education Board examiner as well as moderator. The author was present as observer of evaluation methods.
Duration 40 minutes
|Students were given 2 of a bank of 4 exercises. Each to be done in 20 minutes.|
Exercise 1: Using the mouse
|Each exercise worth 10 marks. 2 marks for each step executed.||1 to 1 student machine ratio|
Students have not used a mouse before.
Duration 30 minutes
|Students were given 1 of a bank of 2 exercises to do as per instructions given to them. They are supposed to follow some of the steps, execute some others by themselves and write down their observations of the process/method on paper. The 2 exercises:
||8 marks for the written note. 12 marks based on teacher's observation of the method employed by child, help taken, and task completion.|
Duration 90 minutes
|Fill In the Blanks 6 marks; Match the following 4 marks; True or false 6 marks; Describe process 4 marks; Describe the differences 4 marks; Name the following based on the given description 6 marks; Short notes 6 marks; Describe method 4 marks; Short answers 10 marks||Model answer paper|
Duration 5 mins
Figure 4: Cumulative group scores
Figure 4 shows the average group scores of the Experimental Group at 47%, Control Group B 56%, and Control Group A 9%. The higher overall average for Control Group B was due to higher scores in the theory examination. Control Group A attained 9% despite having no exposure to computers prior to the examination. There could be several reasons for this:
Figure 5: Practical exam group averages
Figure 6 compares the average group scores on the theory examination. The Control Group B leads at 33 marks out of 60, the Experimental Group is at 25 and the Control Group A is at 7.
Figure 6: Theory exam group averages
It is also quite likely that this mode of unsupervised group learning through the computer is impacting subject knowledge for other subjects. There is considerable learning material as well as games stored on these machines. Three of the MIE locations mentioned in this paper were connected to the Internet through VSAT in June 2004. The impact of this is an area for future research.
It is postulated that curriculum can be divided into three bands, in order for learners to acquire the necessary competence (Mitra 2003):
Bytesforall (2002). Village kinds [kids] find computers a useful, simple toy. http://mail.sarai.net/pipermail/bytesforall/2002-July/000111.html [verified 10 Aug 2004]
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Mitra, S. and Rana, V. (2001). Children and the Internet: Experiments with minimally invasive education in India. The British Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 221-232.
Mitra, S. (2000). Minimally invasive education for mass computer literacy. Presented at the CRIDALA 2000 conference in Hong Kong, 21-25 June.
Mitra, S. (2003). Minimally Invasive Education: A progress report on the "Hole-in-the-wall" experiments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(3), 367-371.
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Wullenweber, Walter (2001). Das loch in der wand. Stern Magazine, No. 42, 11 October, pp 97-102.
|Author: Parimala Inamdar|
Center for Research in Cognitive Systems, NIIT Ltd
Corduroy Building, Aditya Textile Compound
Safed Pool, Andheri East, Mumbai 400072, India
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.niitholeinthewall.com/
Please cite as: Inamdar, P. (2004). Computer skills development by children using 'hole in the wall' facilities in rural India. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(3), 337-350. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/inamdar.html