ACM - Computers in Entertainment

This Child is SOLE-d!

By Ashley Yeo

This Child is SOLE-d!

SOLE in action. Students participate in a Skype session.

People speak of technology today as a necessity rather than a form of luxury, where we now find it difficult to part from our personal computers, laptops, and smartphones. Before the Internet became such a ubiquitous phenomenon, mobile phones became “smart,” and LED colored screens were par for the course, it was unusual to see small children fiddling with devices. Today, toddlers and babies can be seen wherever you go with their eyes and fingers stuck to the screens of an iPad oh smartphone, mouth agape.

While many in our society may disapprove of such behavior amongst young children, researcher Sugata Mitra leveraged this wave of new technology to help the children in impoverished nations attain knowledge through better, more efficient teaching methods. Almost mirroring the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, Sugata started his "Hole-in-the-Wall" project in a slum in New Delhi, where he carved out a wall into which computers were installed. Interestingly, Sugata had these computers connected to the Internet as well, and left them in the wall for children to explore and self-learn. Critiques of the Hole-in-the-Wall project would perhaps sound like this: “If children in the slums have no fair access to proper education, how can they teach themselves to use a computer, much less navigate the Internet space?”

But they did.

The children of the slums of Hyderabad and Kalikuppam in India, not only taught themselves the content on the screen, they also managed to teach their peers and help them understand concepts. Sugata eventually came up with his TED award-winning idea of created, self-organized learning environments (SOLEs) with the help of simple technology, like a laptop connected to the Internet. Sugata believes the Internet and technology are keys to future learning for these children, where technology will become tools to help children project their “innate sense of wonder.”

As SOLE focuses on encouraging young children to ask questions with depth, such as “Can you kill a goat by staring at it?”, the project’s goal is not to find concrete answers to questions, but to use technology to aid creative thinking and analysis. This is SOLE’s method of promoting a non-captive mind. Ask big questions that promote “deeper and longer conversations.”

Yet, with every technical solution comes a problem.

While a personal computer connected to the Internet can help these children open gates to further education, it is not without its flaws. Back in 2002 when Sugata implemented SOLE in Hyderabad, India, the computer came with a speech-to-text interface, but was not able to comprehend the strong accents of the children. It started misinterpreting messages, thus rendering the technology useless.

For now, the SOLE project has a good balance between technology, paper, and pen, where each of these tools play an essential role in helping a child maximize his learning potential. 

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*Project SOLE images are licensed under a GNU Free Documentation License.

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