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.
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.