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The Hole in the Wall
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The Hole in the Wall
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India has a foot on both sides of the world's growing digital divide: it is home to a thriving high-technology industry as well as some of the world's biggest slums. So computer scientist Dr. Sugata Mitra created his first "hole in the wall" as a way to answer an interesting question: What would happen if he could provide poor children with free, unlimited access to computers and the Internet?
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Produced in association with Frontline.

Buy the DVD of the full-length documentary at Globalvision.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Frontline World: Stories from a small planet
VOICEOVER
Finally tonight, Indian children discover cyberspace
TITLE
India: The Hole in the Wall
TITLE
Reported by Rory O'Connor
VOICEOVER
I first visited India two years ago while directing a film about global poverty. A billion people live here -- one of every six on the planet. Only a quarter of them have access to clean water, and half are illiterate. In a New Delhi slum I came across an unusual scene: a computer embedded in a wall. It was surrounded by children. Turns out the computer was put here by the company next door, NIIT. While India suffers extreme poverty, it is also home to some of the world's most advanced high-technology firms. Dr. Sugata Mitra is head of research and development here. For years, his passion has been educating poor children.
DR. SUGATA MITRA [Head of Research and Development, NIIT]
Removing what is increasingly being called the "digital divide" is an important issue, which means that everyone must have access.
VOICEOVER
In 1999, Mitra launched an experiment that came to be known as "The Hole in the Wall." He connected a high-speed computer to the Internet and placed it in the wall that separates his firm's headquarters from the adjacent slum. Then he watched who began to use it. Curious kids were immediately drawn to the computer.
DR. SUGATA MITRA
So when they said, "Can we touch it?" I said, "It's on your side of the wall." So the rules say whatever is on their side of the wall, they can touch, so they touched it.
VOICEOVER
Within minutes, the children figured out how to point and click. By the end of the day, they were browsing. Given access and opportunity, the children quickly taught themselves the rudiments of computer literacy.
CHILD
I learned it on my own. Some kids used to play with it, and I would watch them, so I learned it too.
VOICEOVER
A young boy named Rajinder was the first to teach himself how to use the computer.
RAJINDER
I play games. I try to use different tools like the paint tool, and I connect to the Internet. Mainly, I go to the Disney site. I visited a news site a couple [of] days ago. I read about the Taliban and bin Laden. I read that there was a war going on between America and the Taliban. There was bombing, too. I've seen it on the TV and I saw the bombing pictures on the computer.
DR. SUGATA MITRA
He didn't know what a computer was. He was the first guy to have made the jump across what I guess you could describe as maybe three or four thousand years of history, in minutes actually.
VOICEOVER
Rajinder's self-confidence soared after he taught himself how to use a computer.
TEACHER
Now I have seen a lot of change in him and he has become quite bold and expressive also. And I've got great hopes on this child.
DR. SUGATA MITRA
What's your definition of the Internet? He says, "That with which you can do anything."
VOICEOVER
By the time I returned to India this year, Mitra had already replicated his experiment in several other settings. Each time, the results were similar: within hours, and without instruction, children began browsing the Internet. Now Mitra was about to place new computers in another poor community.
NIIT WORKER
We have set up five computers here, and please, everyone, send your kids before or after school. If you have girls in your house you can send them also.
GIRL 1
Move it towards the side to make it a hand. Move it a bit. When it becomes a hand, press the green button.
GIRL 2
Oh, here it comes!
VOICEOVER
In a society where only one in three females can read, Mitra's experiment is a way for girls to overcome barriers. One schoolgirl named Anjana seemed especially enthusiastic.
ANJANA
Today is just my first day. I want to learn more.
REPORTER
How do you feel about all this?
ANJANA
I feel great.
REPORTER
How great?
ANJANA
Really, really great!
DR. SUGATA MITRA
They even re-invent the terms, because nobody taught them the words. So they don't call a cursor a "cursor," they call it a "suhi," which is Hindi for "needle." And they don't call the hourglass symbol the "hourglass symbol," because they've never seen an hourglass before. They call it the "domru," which is Shiva's drum. And it does look a bit like that.
VOICEOVER
Before leaving India, I traveled south with Mitra to the rural state of Maharashtra, where he was installing still more computers.
DR. SUGATA MITRA
These computers are going to be powerful, they're going to be connected, and they're going to be free, entirely free without any restrictions on their usage.
REPORTER
How many of you have heard of the Internet? What is the Internet?
GIRL
It is used to send messages. You can send letters. You can type on your computer and it reaches the other person's computer.
DR. SUGATA MITRA
I don't even want to guess at what computer literacy might do to children, except to say that if cyberspace is considered a place, then there are people who are already in it, and people who are not in it. And there seems to be general consensus of opinion that such segregation among cyber people versus non-cyber people is detrimental and it will cause a divide. If that is the case then I think the Hole in the Wall gives us a method to create a door, if you like, through which large number of children can rush into this new arena. And, when that happens, it will have changed our society forever.