A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be able to
attend a talk by Sugata Mitra at an event organised by the ICT
for Development Collective at Royal Holloway (where I work).
The ICT4D Collective is a body of researchers, doctoral students
and people working in NGOs and development agencies that are all
interested in trying to understand the role played by information
and communication technologies in the developing world. I am a
member of the Collective but have what can really only be
described as an 'amateur' interest in ICT4D issues. The chapter of
my book on the digital divide deals with these issues but in
nothing like the depth
that Tim Unwin and his colleagues at Royal Holloway can do.
Mitra is well-known for so-called 'hole
in the wall' computers - Internet-wired kiosks that were
established in poor urban and rural areas of India in a series
of experiments during the early 2000s. He spoke about the
history and results of the project in incredibly positive and
optimistic terms, but, overall, I was left wondering about the
real long-term benefits of establishing hole in the wall style
computers without plugging them into real world educational
institutions and behaviour.
of the talk, including the Powerpoint slides, is available
at the Cisco website (Thanks to Cisco's
corporate responsbility section for sponsoring the event and
doing such an excellent job of the webcast).
Update: The 100 dollar laptop project, now
gathering pace, is in the same vein, though there are some
significant developments in terms of the hardware and software.