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News ->IT to improve literacy rates in rural India
IT to improve literacy rates in rural India
(12 June 2008)

Hole in the Wall computer in rural IndiaIndia has one of the world’s fastest growing economies yet over one third of the population is still illiterate and more than 35% of children don’t attend secondary school, according to UNICEF. However, a revolutionary initiative has been designed to improve the quality of education in rural India by taking new technology into remote villages.

HiWEL, Hole in the Wall Education Limited, is an education system where children can use self-sufficient, remotely monitored computers which are online and loaded with links to educational material. Set up like a cash point, the computers are placed in the sides of buildings, walls of schools and other public locations.

The founder of HiWEL, Chief Scientist Emeritus of the NIIT group and currently Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, Dr Sugata Mitra, started the project in 1999 as a research initiative to determine alternative pedagogy across rural India. “India is developing a reputation as a serious global outsourcing base and we needed to investigate how the country would cope with multiple industries moving here,” Dr Mitra said.

“We needed to know if the existing education system would work over a long period to provide people with an education level to sustain the intellectual impact of companies moving their bases to India,” he said.

In June, 2000, Dr Mitra installed computers in Madantusi to study the impact of the HiWEL on the community’s children. Dr Mitra was astonished by the results – Hindi-speaking children, who had previously spoken no English at all, had learned how to use the Internet and were teaching themselves around 400 English words per month.

Dr Mitra continued to experiment with the technology and installed computers in Kalkaji, Shivpuri and dozens of other locations, with 200-300 children sharing a village computer and becoming PC-literate within three months.

To investigate how far this kind of self-organised learning can go, Prof. Mitra recently loaded a computer with an English biotechnology program on it in Kuppan, a remote village in South India. When he returned three months later, he discovered a young girl who had seen the program, contacted a relative about it and had taught herself about biotechnology and DNA sequencing from the computer programs. She had then proceeded to teach other children.

India is now the largest global outsourcing provider and Dr Mitra hopes that NIIT Technologies Ltd can use HiWEL to educate the next generation of IT and outsourcing professionals.

“Since the early 1990s, NIIT Technologies has been in the forefront of introducing new technology to young people. The challenge now is a much greater one - the development of talent in rural India through education. Indeed, a talent pool from rural India would be one of the only ways of tackling the worldwide shortage of skilled people. Through initiatives such as HiWEL, NIIT Technologies hopes to promote quick and far reaching IT literacy in the country.”

India is now the largest global outsourcing provider and Dr Mitra hopes that NIIT Technologies Ltd can use the HiWEL to educate the next generation of IT and outsourcing professionals. HiWEL is currently being used in Cambodia, the border between Pakistan and China as well as several African countries with more than 300,000 children having used the computers.

NIIT Technologies is a leading IT solutions organisation, servicing customers in North America, Europe, Japan, Asia and Australia. For further information please visit

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