We are back, after a hiatus!
When the British left the country, India had a literacy rate of about 12%. Though much progress has been made since and, as per the National Survey, the literacy rate has climbed to about 65% by 2001, India is still way below the world average of 85%. It accounts for the largest illiterate population in the world. Today, 1 in every 3 illiterate people in the world is an Indian, and by 2020 1 in every 2 is likely to be an Indian.
However, one must not confuse literacy with education. Improvements in the literacy rate do not necessarily correspond to a one-for-one improvement in education situation. As per the Census of 2001, “every person above the age of 7 years who can read and write in any language is said to be literate”. As per one survey, out of every 100 children, only 40 attend secondary school, out of which only 10 have access to tertiary education, out of which only 2 are employable! Several causes contribute to such statistics such as poverty, lack of quality infrastructure, outdated curriculum, and lack of (good) teachers.
The last one caught the attention of Sugata Mitra leading to the Hole-in-the-Wall Experiment – in 1999, Dr. Mitra carved a hole in the wall that separated his office from an adjoining slum, Kalkaji in New Delhi, and set up a computer freely accessible through the hole. He found that even with no prior experience, children could quickly self-instruct to learn to use the computer.
Encouraged by the result, he repeated the experiment in Shivpuri (a small town in Madhya Pradesh, India) and Madantusi (a village in Uttar Pradesh, India). The findings from these experiments confirmed the results of the initial experiment: children seemed to pick up computer skills without any direct intervention. Dr. Mitra defined this as a new way of learning – Minimally Invasive Education. Minimally Invasive Education uses “children’s natural curiosity and focuses on providing an enabling environment where they can learn on their own.”
Hole-in-the-Wall Education Ltd. (HiWEL) was established in 2001 to research and propagate the idea of Minimally Invasive Education. It has, since, gone on to set up more than 700 such clusters of computers, known as Learning Stations, within and outside India. The results continue to show that children learn to use the computer with little or no help.
For its work in bridging the digital divide and reaching under-served children to encourage collaborative learning through an innovative methodology, HiWEL was awarded the Global ICT Excellence Award in 2008 and the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Award in 2010.
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