It was almost three years ago that Dr. Sugara Mitra, head of NIIT's Centre for Research on Cognitive Systems, began quietly to put internet kiosks where kids hang out in the poorest parts of New Delhi. The effort, titled “Hole in the Wall”, was an experiment in “minimally invasive education”, a concept that offers this affront to the base assumptions of formal education: “that in the absence of any directed input, any learning environment that provides an adequate level of curiosity can cause learning.”
Here is what happened, the Hole in the Wall web site (www.niitholeinthewall.com) reports:
The objective of this experiment was to check if people would be interested in using an unmanned internet-based kiosk out in the open, without any instructions. It also aimed at ascertaining if an unmanned kiosk can be operational without any supervision in an outdoor location.
The boundary wall of the NIIT office where the computer was placed is adjacent to a slum, which has a lot of children from 0-18 years of age. Some of these children do not go to school, and a few who do, go to government schools that lack resources, good teachers and student motivation. These children are not particularly familiar with the English language.
The results of the experiment have been quite exciting. Within three months of opening up of the internet kiosk, it was found that the children, mostly from the slum, had achieved a certain level of computer skills without any planned instructional intervention. They were able to browse the Internet, download songs, go to cartoon sites and work on MS Paint. They even invented their own vocabulary to define terms on the computer, for example, sui (needle) for the cursor, “channels” for web sites and damru (Shiva's drum) for the hourglass (busy) symbol. By the fourth month, the children were able to discover and accomplish tasks like creating folders, cutting and pasting, creating shortcuts, moving/resizing windows and using MS Word to create short messages in the absence of keyboard. When the issue of whether the kiosk should be removed from the boundary wall arose, the children strongly opposed the idea. The parents also felt that the computer was good for their children. The kiosk continues to be operational today with approximately 80 children using it per day.
Over the next two and a half years, Dr. Mitra and his team mounted internet-connected PCs in 29 different walls in four different Indian cities. The experiment continues, but at this point a number of additional findings are clear:
On the whole, users do not damage or abuse the equipment.
Learning is social. Children learn faster in groups because members are eager to share what they know and learn.
Shy children are not left out. Girls especially assume organizing roles, throwing screen hogs off the computer to let quieter children have a turn. Kids even organize classes for each other.
Adults don't participate, although they believe the kiosks are good things. Kids are the users.
Users figure out how to improve the computers. One found a way to improve the quality of the music files that played on the systems' little speakers.
Now let's pause to raise the obvious irony. These kiosks ran (and run) various forms of Microsoft Windows OSes, which cost money. The hands-down winner OS for the self-teaching crowd is Linux, which is free. The only OS with a legitimate claim to all-world relevance is Linux. You can recite the rest of the virtues list. But rather than do that, let's visit one quote from another corner of the world:
We believe LINUX can play a very important role in Latin American and Caribbean modernisation, constructing networks to permit a great number of universities, colleges, schools and educational centers to connect to the Internet in order to use this fabulous tool to improve their scientific and cultural levels. In a few words, LINUX is the tool that permits reducing the “technological gap” between the countries. LINUX permits access to “the most advanced informatics” implemented according to the reduced economic capacities in our region. LINUX is a new way to make informatics, where the most important thing is “the technical quality and personal solidarity”.
That one comes from the United Nations by way of ctrlaltesc.org. In that same region, our own Phil Hughes (Linux Journal's founder and publisher) has been working on Linux adoption in Costa Rica.
So why not do more here? Since NIIT has taken the lead on this altruistic venture, how about working with that company to get some Linux boxes out there on the streets? I see that NIIT has a Linux training partnership with Red Hat. Let's get a hardware company to step up and take it to the next stage.
The only impediments to progress here are conceptual. In the same way it's hard for the educational establishment to admit the transcendent power of kids' natural curiosity, it's hard for the business establishment to admit the raw usefulness of Linux and other free and open-source software.
Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra's experiments prove that wrong. Software-as-usual assumes that its business is only about selling bits in manufactured packages. Linux proves that wrong, simply because it is being put to use everywhere. People are making money. Commercial software remains unharmed and contributes plenty of good on its own. It's a big world and a big business with room enough for everybody. But it won't include the world's untapped billions of curious souls if all we try to do is sell them packaged bits. We have to think bigger than that, and more practically.
Almost two years ago I observed that the software business eventually would turn into something much more like the construction business: concerned fundamentally with architecture, design and building—even using much of the same vocabulary. Prefab products like Microsoft OSes wouldn't go away but would thrive in a much larger context where countless professionals and amateurs simply chose the best tools and materials for the work that needed to be done. Some of those materials would grow, as it were, on trees. (I explained this once to a Microsoft guy, and he immediately got it: “You mean, Linux is trees. Endless lumber for anything.” Yes indeedy.)
The world needs to deploy a lot more technology if it's going to find a way to clothe, feed, house, employ and involve everybody in the prosperity enjoyed today by a relative few. There's plenty of business to be had in making that happen. It's a matter of exploiting natural materials that renew themselves and only improve the more you exploit them. And, there isn't a naturally abundant building material that fills that description better than Linux—unless, of course, we're talking about the natural curiosity of kids.
Doc Searls is senior editor of Linux Journal. His monthly column is Linux for Suits. He is also a coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal
Practical Task Scheduling Deployment
One of the best things about the UNIX environment (aside from being stable and efficient) is the vast array of software tools available to help you do your job. Traditionally, a UNIX tool does only one thing, but does that one thing very well. For example, grep is very easy to use and can search vast amounts of data quickly. The find tool can find a particular file or files based on all kinds of criteria. It's pretty easy to string these tools together to build even more powerful tools, such as a tool that finds all of the .log files in the /home directory and searches each one for a particular entry. This erector-set mentality allows UNIX system administrators to seem to always have the right tool for the job.
Cron traditionally has been considered another such a tool for job scheduling, but is it enough? This webinar considers that very question. The first part builds on a previous Geek Guide, Beyond Cron, and briefly describes how to know when it might be time to consider upgrading your job scheduling infrastructure. The second part presents an actual planning and implementation framework.
Join Linux Journal's Mike Diehl and Pat Cameron of Help Systems.
Free to Linux Journal readers.View Now!
|The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database||Jul 29, 2016|
|Stunnel Security for Oracle||Jul 28, 2016|
|SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager||Jul 21, 2016|
|My +1 Sword of Productivity||Jul 20, 2016|
|Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!||Jul 19, 2016|
|Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)||Jul 18, 2016|
- The Firebird Project's Firebird Relational Database
- Stunnel Security for Oracle
- My +1 Sword of Productivity
- SUSE LLC's SUSE Manager
- Non-Linux FOSS: Caffeine!
- Managing Linux Using Puppet
- Murat Yener and Onur Dundar's Expert Android Studio (Wrox)
- Parsing an RSS News Feed with a Bash Script
- Google's SwiftShader Released
- Doing for User Space What We Did for Kernel Space
With all the industry talk about the benefits of Linux on Power and all the performance advantages offered by its open architecture, you may be considering a move in that direction. If you are thinking about analytics, big data and cloud computing, you would be right to evaluate Power. The idea of using commodity x86 hardware and replacing it every three years is an outdated cost model. It doesn’t consider the total cost of ownership, and it doesn’t consider the advantage of real processing power, high-availability and multithreading like a demon.
This ebook takes a look at some of the practical applications of the Linux on Power platform and ways you might bring all the performance power of this open architecture to bear for your organization. There are no smoke and mirrors here—just hard, cold, empirical evidence provided by independent sources. I also consider some innovative ways Linux on Power will be used in the future.Get the Guide