Syndicate content

Hole in the Wall

Promising uses of technology in education in poor, rural and isolated communities around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
don’t worry: your solutions -- and possibly your salvation – have finally arrived!
don’t worry: your solution (salvation?)
has finally arrived!

One persistent challenge for educational policymakers and planners related to the potential use of informational and communication technologies (ICTs) in remote, low income communities around the world is that most products, services, usage models, expertise, and research related to ICT use in education come from high-income contexts and environments.

One consequence is that technology-enabled 'solutions' are imported and 'made to fit' into what are often much more challenging environments. When they don't work, or where they are too expensive to be replicated at any scale, this is taken as 'evidence' that ICT use in education in such places is irrelevant -- and possibly irresponsible.

That said, lessons are being learned as a result of emerging practices, both good and bad, in the use of ICTs in education in low resource, poor, rural and isolated communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific that may be useful to help guide the planning and implementation of educational technology initiatives in such environments. (It may even turn out that the technological innovations that emerge from such places many have a wider relevance …. but that is a topic for another discussion.)

Products like the BRCK (a connectivity device designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya by many of the people behind Ushahidi to better address user needs in places where electricity and internet connections are, for lack of a better word, ‘problematic’) and MobiStation (a solar-powered 'classroom in a suitcase' which features a projector and lots of off-line educational content developed by UNICEF Uganda) remain notable exceptions to the lamentable reality that, for the most part, ‘solutions’ touted for use in schools in e.g. rural Africa, or in isolated communities in the Andes, are designed elsewhere, with little understanding of the practical day-to-day realities and contexts in which such technologies are to be used. Many people who have lived and worked in such environments are quite familiar with well-meaning but comparatively high cost efforts often informed more by the marketing imperatives embedded in many corporate social responsibility efforts than by notions of cost-effectiveness and sustainability over time or the results of user-centered design exercises.

Searching for India's Hole in the Wall

Michael Trucano's picture
two holes in the wall, actually

I recently found myself with a free morning in Delhi, and thought I would make use of the time by searching for a certain rather famous Hole In The Wall.

Some quick background: Back in 1999 professor Sugata Mitra decided to conduct a very simple, small-scale exeriment: He put a computer behind some protective plexiglass, connected it to a joystick, and embedded the whole thing in a wall in a Delhi slum.  They he stood back and watched (both literally, and via a small video camera placed nearby).  It turned out that, left to their own devices, children could 'learn computers' outside of the formal education system, unsupervised. Hearing about this experience was said to be the inspiration for the story that eventually became an Oscar-winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire. The Hole in the Wall had been in my thoughts for a number of reasons, including that fact that it had recently been awarded one of the Macarthur Foundation's DML prizes.  (Disclaimer: A company, HiWEL, was formed by NIIT to take this work further, and it has received funding from the IFC, part of the World Bank Group. I have had no connection with this project or its principals.)