Sunday, June 2, 2013

More holes in Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole-in-Wall’ project

I wouldn’t take it if
you offered it to me for free
” said the head of the school I visited  in the huge Katutura Township on the outskirts of Windhoek in Africa. In 2008 some guys
turned up started to drill four holes in the wall, installed dial-up computers,
and left explaining almost nothing. Within three months the project was dead. Internet
access was intermittent and larger boys dominated the computers, playing games.
At best a distraction, at worst, yet another failed and misguided idea imposed
upon a community that was neither asked nor consulted. Today the four ugly,
padlocked shutters are all that remain, just as we saw in my last report on the
‘hole-in-the-wall’ report in India.

Hype cycle

Of all the learning technology projects I’ve witnessed over
the thirty years I’ve been in this field, this is the one that most closely
matches the Gartner hype cycle. Since 2007 Sugata Mitra has been doing the
rounds giving exactly the same talk, same pauses, same anecdotes and same
jokes. I have just seem him give exactly the same speech I saw him give six
years ago. This is the only thing that has been sustainable in the project; the
hype-fuelled marketing. It has, I hope, reached its ‘Peak of inflated expectation’ and
is now plunging headlong into the 'Trough  of disillusionment'. When I asked a
government official what happened she said “it didn’t work….we must do some
research to see why it failed”.


For Arora, who visited the sites in India, there was “little real independent evidence, other than that provided by HiWEL“. It
did “not compare the amount of time spent
on hole-in-wall material with same time in school….the comparison was meaningless
” and in the end the project was “self-defeating…
‘hole-in-the-wall’ has become the ‘computer-in-the-school’

Project not effective

Mark Warschauer,  Professor of Education at the University of California, who
also visited the now abandoned sites, 
found that “parents thought that
the paucity of relevant content rendered it irrelevant
“ and “criticised the kiosks as distracting the
children from their homework
“. Overall there it was “low level learning and not challenging… with no Hindi content (only
language they knew)
”. In fact, “most of the time they were playing games”. On
top of this, just as in Africa, “the internet rarely functioned”. To sum up, “overall the project was not
very effective”.


At the E-learning
Africa Conference, where I gave a keynote, workshop and debate contribution,
I met practitioner after practitioner who welcomed by more sober view of the
project. They too were skeptical as all the evidence they had suggested that
teacher involvement was vital. Person after person shook my hand saying how
glad they were that someone was standing up to the hype.

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