Hope-in-the-Wall? A digital promise for free learning


  • Payal Arora is an Assistant Professor in International Communication and Media at Erasmus University in the Netherlands. Her interests lie in social computing, informatics, new media, ethnography and international development. She has published in several peer-reviewed scholarly journals and her upcoming book, “Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas”, explores social practice with computers and the Internet in Almora in India, including the analysis of key ICT initiatives at the grass roots level.

Dr Payal Arora, Department of Media and Communication, Postbus 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Email: arora@fhk.eur.nl


Hole-in-the-Wall as a concept has attracted worldwide attention. It involves providing unconditional access to computer-equipped kiosks in playgrounds and out-of-school settings, children taking ownership of their learning and learning driven by the children's natural curiosity. It is posited that this approach, which is being used in India, Cambodia and several countries in Africa, can pave the way for a new education paradigm and be the key to providing literacy and basic education and bridging the digital divide in remote and disadvantaged regions. This paper seeks to establish why two such open access, self-directed and collaborative learning systems failed to take root in the Central Himalaya communities of Almora and Hawalbagh. The purpose of this study is not to deny the achievements and potential of such an approach in other settings, but to examine the tenets and sustainability of such initiatives. It is argued that there is a need to distinguish between Hole-in-the-Wall as an idea and as an institution and to reflect on the key suppositions on how unsupervised access, informal, public, self-guided and collaborative work can help in children's learning.