When Dr. Sugata Mitra left a computer connected to the internet in a hole in the wall in a New Delhi slum in 1999, he wasn’t quite sure what the results might be. He had done so in order to test his belief that, even in the absence of a formal education system, children would still demonstrate a thirst for learning and a desire to educate themselves. To all intents and purposes he was proved right.
Fast forward 12 years and, in his award winning TED talk, Dr. Mitra was able to confirm that his experiment had been a success; having repeated it all over India, he concluded “children will learn to do what they want to learn to do.” In one Rajasthan village a group of children had succeeded in recording their own music and playing it back to their friends; in another, an 8 year old boy had begun to teach his 6 year old pupil how to surf the web. What is most remarkable is that in both cases, it had taken the children just a few hours to attain the required level of learning. The experiment was such a success, Dr Mitra was granted an audience with the late Arthur C Clarke, who remarked, with no little irony, that, “any teacher that is able to be replaced with a robot, should be”.
Now there is a project that hopes to build on Dr Mitra’s findings, by installing solar powered digital education hubs in deprived areas across the world. Hello World is the brainchild of Projects For All founder Katrin Macmillan, who developed a passion for empowering marginalised communities during her time working as a human rights advocate in Nigeria and Ethiopia. Roland Wells, a community engagement specialist, is the Technical Director.
The project’s aim is to attempt to provide access to education via the hubs to 1 million children in the next 2 years, and 2 million children by 2019, based on the belief that the hubs can reach 3 times the number of children that a traditional school can, at just 5% of the cost. Research shows that there are 134 million children in the world between the ages of 7-18 who have never been to school; this is the demographic the project hopes to address.
The findings of Dr. Mitra, who sits on the advisory board at Projects For All, show that children with regular use of a “hole in the wall” were able to significantly improve their test scores in under a year, by 180% in English, and 316% in mathematics: In India, he noted, in less than 2 years, “children had begun to Google their homework”. After 4 years, now based at Newcastle University, Dr Mitra showed that children were able to teach themselves bio-technology!
Each hub can provide as many as 1,000 children with access to educational software and the internet. Every user receives a personalised login where files and other work can be saved. Wi-fi is available 24/7, and “how to” guides are made available so that anybody can copy the model anywhere in the world.
The hubs are not simply “given” to communities, Hello World partners with the inhabitants of each site and works with the community to teach them how to maintain the hub, and basic computer equipment and networking skills. One pilot project, based in Suleja, Nigeria, has been running for 18 months and on average the hub is used between 400-500 times per week, with usage divided equally between games and learning. What is more, the community has treated the hub with care and attention, carrying out regular repairs and even improving the infrastructure surrounding it.
In order to fund its plans for expansion, which include a year of training and construction of 16 Hello Hubs, reaching 32,000 children at a cost of $22 per child, the Hello World project has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo which hopes to raise £30,000 to visit Peru and build 5 new hubs. The ultimate goal is to raise $700,000 to provide an educational facility to 2 million children, at a cost of $7.50 per child, with 58 fully trained teams across multiple countries.
The project will focus particularly on some of the world’s most vulnerable demographics, such as out of school girls and uneducated women, helping to build Women’s leadership groups and holding bi-monthly workshops with topics such as family health, how to set up a business, and household finance. Data will also be collected from the hubs to try to gain a better understanding of learning trends and detect where improvements can be made.
I don’t know about you, but what struck me about this campaign was that, unlike so many of the charitable donations I make, I could relate to this. I get the idea that if you give kids the tools, they will educate themselves; that essentially, all children want to learn and improve the situation around them, not just for themselves, but for their community. I get that if you do not have the resources to build a school, this is the next best thing, and, although “social experiment” is perhaps not the right term to use when you are talking about educating underprivileged children, there is a sense that a Hello Hub is part of a dramatic shift towards a new kind of learning, one that stands a very good chance of changing the world we live in for the better. I’m also excited to hear that a supply teacher at my old school is backing the campaign. What’s exciting about that, you may ask? It just happens to be Hollywood film star Hugh Jackman…
I’m often frustrated when minutes after agreeing to up the size of my donation to a charity to a voice on the end of a telephone, I’m rung again minutes later with a demand to increase it still further; can this really be the best way to run a fundraising business? Well, no, I don’t think so. But this might be. Crowdfunding is transparent, so give it a try.