Bhrigu's question

कभी जो याद भी आता हूँ मैं तो कहते हैं के आज बज़्म में कुछ फ़ित्ना-ओ-फ़साद नहीं - मिर्ज़ा ग़ालिब

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Location: the valley, California, United States

Bay Area, Strategy Manager, Haas- U. C. Berkeley, Marathons

Friday, August 05, 2005

The hole that was a breakthrough

Some years ago, Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT had a brainwave. He introspected over the millions of people who were disconnected from the wired world. He ruminated over the potential threat that a disparity between the computer literate and the computer illiterate [a.k.a. Digital Divide] would create for economic growth.

Dr. Mitra literally created a hole in the wall. He made a hole in the compound wall of an NIIT building at Delhi and installed a computer. The keyboard and mouse were freely accessible to passers by. Street uchins from nearby slums approached with apprehension, which was later replaced by curiousity and surprise as Dr. Mitra encouraged them to touch the computer.

Within hours, the unsupervised & unaided kids had figured out the rudiments of the machine. They coined their own terms: dumroo (Shiva's drum) for the hour glass, Sui (needle) for the pointer/cursor. Somehow, they accessed websites of cartoon characters, news sites (BBC) and other sites from random surfing. When he witnessed this untrained cognitive ability, Dr. Mitra replicated it in many other places, including a village rural Maharashtra. The results were similar.

Dr. Mitra likens this experiment to Arthur C. Clarke's vision in 2001, A Space Odyssey about a mysterious black monolith which succeeds in endowing creatures with intelligence. During the course of a PBS documentary on Dr. Mitra's experiment, he met Dr. Clarke and showed him the results. Interestingly, not all children were equally adept at learning. Some children were far ahead in the learning curve. It did wonders for their self-esteem. These street kids, who were enrolled in municipal schools, believed that they had a fantastic future which they would determine.

Is cognitive ability genetic? Are human beings endowed with an overwhelming sense of curiosity for the unknown - a curiosity that overrides any fears or apprehension nurtured in them? Since progress is determined by the curious, or in G. B. Shaw's immortal words, the 'unreasonable man', is the ability to discover a unique trait found in all children? Does this natural ability get 'nurtured out' through education, age and experience? Is minimally invasive education a term coined by Dr. Mitra the way to go?

Read the thoughts of the viewers of the PBS documentary. What do you think?

5 Comments:

Blogger Suhail said...

Hey Quizman, nice links these. That pbs documentary was quite interesting. Especially the part, where the maharashtrian girl oh-so-coyly, shyly says, "aapan ithe msg type karto, tey msg tabadtop kuthe hi pathavta yete" :)

Very cheerful, and brought back memories of my own introduction to computers :)

11:07 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Thanks, Suhail. Yeah, loved the kid in that documentary. :-)

12:57 PM  
Blogger Aaman said...

Great ancedote, Arun - will reference this soon

7:38 PM  
Blogger Quizman said...

Thanks, Aaman.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Vulturo said...

I read this in India Unbound, by Gurcharan Das

I think he didn't make a keyboard available/there was a touch sensitive screen

Regards,

Saket

8:33 AM  

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