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A Hole-in-the-wall Question Box changes lives in Rural India


– How many zeroes are there in 90,000?
– What’s the square root of 25?
– I’ve come 10th in my class for the past two years. What have I done wrong?
– What’s the price of pumpkin in Ghaziabad?
– Who killed Mahatma Gandhi?
– What’s the price of milk in Dehli?
– What’s the score of the India v Australia cricket match?
– Lorna is related to which sport?

Interesting questions all! But these are being asked by villagers in Phoolpur and Ethida – 2-3 hours from Delhi. Its a new “technology” called “Question Box“!

Its simple to use – the villager goes to this greyish box in the village and asks a question (the type you see above). A girl sitting at home in Delhi (who knows the local dialect and English), then searches the internet. She gets the answer and replies back. The villager goes back more knowledgeable.

Some questions are tough to answer like ‘Who is the best man in the world?’. So there could be this element of frivolity at the beginning but it can quickly become the most powerful tool.

What is this “Question Box”?

Question Box is a collaborative between users, providers of information, researchers, and nonprofits. Question Box is lead by researcher Dr. Ritu Dangwal and supported by a dedicated team of engineers and administrators. TNI implements and undertakes the day-to-day management of the Question Box Project. TNI is the nonprofit arm of NIIT Institute of Information Technology in New Delhi.

It has been set up in collaboration with Open Mind. Open Mind is a U.S. nonprofit that originated and houses the Question Box Project. It is founded by Rose Shuman.

The areas it has helped for example are –
– in getting prices for the produce in Delhi markets so its easier for the farmers to sell their produce
– information to help improve their rice-growing
– seeking financial services and advice

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Ritu Dangwal, the research head, has done studies which show statistically how the quality of teaching, results and educational resources in a town or village outside Delhi typically corresponded to that location’s distance from the big city. So the question box helps to reduce the distance!

At first, kiosks were set up for the villagers which helped as well. But the Question Box is much cheaper and has a greater potential.

Those kiosks, though, cost $5,000 each, and the project’s aim is to install 100,000 of them. Each Question Box, by contrast, costs only a fifth of that; further boxes will appear as and when donations make them possible, while the team continues to develop their functions.

Clearly shows that with some innovative mind and a very simple process, internet and technology can be used with telling effect!!

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Some papers from the “Hole in the Wall” initiative:

‘Hole-In-The-Wall’ Computer Kiosks Foster Mathematics Achievement – A comparative study
Public computing, computer literacy and educational outcome: Children and computers in rural India
Acquisition of computing literacy on shared public computers: Children and the ‘Hole in the Wall’
A model of how children acquire computing skills from “Hole in the Wall” computers in public places

for more publications and information go to the Hole-in-the-wall site

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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh – the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and “drishtikone”.

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