the slums of New Delhi to the coastal roads of Banda, hundreds
of poor kids in India go online every day at free, outdoor computer kiosks installed in slums and rural villages
to read news headlines, befriend cartoon figures, draw with
digital paintbrushes and explore the possibilities of cyberspace.
Read an interview a member of the Hole in the Wall research team, psychologist Ritu Dangwal, find out what the
kids' favorite sites are, and see what terms they've come up with
for computer tools and features.
in the Street: Interview with Ritu Dangwal
"Shiva's Drum": A Digital Glossary
What's Hot in New Delhi: Pick Hits of the Hole
in the Wall Kids
What the Kids Like Best About Computers
An Interview With Ritu Dangwal, Ph.D.,
of the Hole in the Wall Project
Psychologist Ritu Dangwal, Ph.D., is group consultant at the
Centre for Research on Cognitive Systems; she has observed kids
using the kiosks since the inception of the project. Who's looking
through the Hole in the Wall -- and what are they really getting
out of it? Read her email interview with FRONTLINE/World.
the typical child who uses the Hole in the Wall computer kiosks.
Poor, going to school but not interested. Does not attend school
regularly. Is like an urchin, with torn clothes, no slippers,
out of the house most of the time. Interested in playing cricket,
marbles and more cricket. Totally indifferent to what is happening
around him or her; lives each day as it comes.
are the social dynamics when groups of kids have to huddle around
one computer? Do you find "alpha" Internet surfers among the
kids who take the lead? Do other kids simply look on?
At the onset, the day of inauguration, you find a whole bunch
of children crowding round the kiosk. It is total chaos! We
strongly believe in self-organizing systems. Within a few days
children organize themselves. Those not interested (drop) out
and those interested stay on. They figure out the timings when
they can have access to the kiosk.
its inception in 1999, the Hole in the Wall project has been
expanded throughout India to many different provinces. Have
you observed any differences between urban and rural areas in
how children interact with the Hole in the Wall kiosks?
Definitely -- there has been a marked difference in how the
children and community react to a computer, depending on the
geographic location and on cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Some places there is no gender difference -- the community is
cohesive and takes an active part in ensuring that [girl] children
are using the kiosk. At the other extreme, only boys use the
kiosk, and girls, though eager, do not come to the kiosk, just
stop near the kiosk site and watch.
Girls below puberty are using the kiosk. They generally come
when the crowd is less, early mornings or late evenings. They
otherwise hang around to watch what older boys are doing and
then do the same when left alone. But this phenomenon is seen
in Delhi -- a metropolitan city -- and not in a village.
The caste system has led to divisions in our society, but when
it comes to children using the kiosks, we do not find any discrimination
there elements of the Hole in the Wall project that make it
uniquely Indian? Do you see a Hole in the Wall program catching
on in other countries?
I don't see the Hole in the Wall as a purely Indian phenomenon.
Children are the same all across [the world]. If it can hold
true in India, it can work as well anywhere in the world. Cambodia,
Ethiopia and the Philippines have all shown interest in this
you seen any differences in problem-solving behaviors and academic
achievement between the kids who regularly use the Hole in the
Wall computer kiosks and the kids who don't?
There was a study done by a professor teaching in Delhi University
entitled "Computer Environment and Cognitive Development." She
found that children using the kiosk were more persistent, more
tolerant toward ambiguity -- their aspirations were more realistic
than children who were (going to school) but not using the kiosk.
argue that just letting kids click around the Internet will
not improve their performance in educational domains like reading
Clicking around the Internet may not directly lead to any kind
of improvement. But yes, browsing the Internet is like a child
sitting with a book in hand. There has to be something fascinating
for the child to hold the book or flick through the pages. Likewise,
without knowing it, children are going to sites like tours and
travels, reading news, or making attempts to do so. They have
seen most of the countries. They knew when Pakistan's prime
minister came to India to sign a treaty, they knew when (Al
Qaeda) had bombed America -- all this they had read and seen
through the Internet. They use the calculator to do sums, they
read Cinderella stories ... . At the end of the day, they are
doing far more constructive work than they would have done in
many of the kids who use a Hole in the Wall kiosk can be expected
to go to college?
Presently, most of the kids who are using the kiosk at Kalkaji
[New Delhi] are going to school, but the dropout rate starts
to increase as they reach class Fifth Standard onwards. The
thought process of a typical parent living in a slum is that
children should go to school to pick up basic skills, but that
the end result should be that as soon as the child reaches the
age of 14 or 15 then he should start to work to add to the household
income. I don't think parents coming from slum areas are really
keen on sending their young boys to college.
do the skills that children learn through playing computer games
via the Internet translate into the foundations for learning
I frankly would not go so far as to envisage any children learning
marketable skills. The research that we are interested in nowhere
talks of employment. Our interest is purely to see how groups
of children ages 8 through 13 take to learning a computer. No
efforts are being taken to ready them for the information technology
has surprised you the most over these past few years as you've
observed how children use the Hole in the Wall computer kiosks?
Just about everything. How intuitively these slum children have
taken to computers. How well they seem to have organized themselves
to pick up skills. Their quest for information is the greatest
The first Hole in the Wall computer kiosk went online on January
26, 1999, in the slum of Kalkaji in New Delhi. Today, there
are 52 such kiosks connecting kids to the Internet around the
country. By the end of 2003, Dr. Mitra and his team at the Centre
for Research in Cognitive Systems hope to have 108 Hole in the
Wall computer kiosk clusters operating in 22 different sites
across India. Funding for the Hole in the Wall experiment comes
in part from the Indian government, the World Bank and the International
See a map of the kiosks:
Hole in the Wall Web site
Across India, kids use their regional dialects to come up with
terms for the new images they're seeing as they log on to computers
for the first time.
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By remote monitoring of the kiosks, researchers can tell what the children are looking at, and what sites get the most traffic. The Web sites are tracked irrespective of the particular user. What follows is a select list of popular Web sites from various kiosk locations. These merely represent a diversity of sites visited by the kids; they are not a statistical representation of traffic.
Interactive games, activites and music
and other games
News in Hindi
"Playing games because they are interactive, colorful, have
cartoons, animations and sound. They are source of entertainment,
and the idea of crossing stages or outdoing fellow user in scoring
is very motivating." (Amit Kumar, age 13, Madangir kiosk, New
the Internet, as it gives a chance to see the world and many
beautiful places and things in the world which otherwise won't
be possible to see." (Pawan Kumar, age 15, Madangir kiosk, New
learnt to use paint, calculator, see various places through
the Internet, solve puzzles, play games, listen interesting
sounds and songs." (T.R. Ravi, age 12, Kalludevanahalli kiosk,