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How “Grandmothers” Are Using The Internet To Teach Children In India To Read

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In these complex modern times, however, a much more global response is emerging to address the issue of children being left behind in terms of education, literacy, and opportunities.

Sugata Mitra, a professor at the University of Newcastle in the U.K., started his research into public computing while working in Delhi. Speaking to The Guardian, he remembers jumping into an ad hoc experiment simply by getting his assistants to make a hole in the wall and placing a computer where children from the neighboring slum could access it.

He monitored what the children did, starting with working out how to move the mouse and learning about double clicks. Within a day, one of them had even discovered how to input text, despite the lack of a keyboard. Further experiments in self-learning showed that children in a variety of disadvantaged villages in India were capable of working in English, despite not understanding the language before the start of the experiments.

They also tended to learn a great deal about given topics when given challenges, but they complained that they did not understand enough.

In one instance, having challenged a group of Tamil-speaking children to discover what they could about biotechnology, Mitra hired a local woman to simply stand behind the children while they were working and encourage them. This simple action improved test results by 20 percent, bringing them up to around the levels of the best Delhi schools.

This result led Mitra to create several other self-organized learning environments (SOLEs) in both India and the United Kingdom to let children learn at their own speeds and in their own ways, but he realized that encouragement was an important factor for success. To meet this need, a team of over 100 volunteers has been recruited, though Mitra believes that at least 300 are required for best results. Their job is to be friendly and encouraging—to act like grandmas for the kids. They also use English when providing encouragement to ensure that children for whom English is not a major language get a chance to pick it up naturally, since the majority of the information available on the Internet is in English.

Using Skype, the volunteers become part of the School in the Cloud program, spending regular sessions with groups of children using the SOLE. By providing encouragement, asking questions, and being responsive to the children’s learning patterns, they help the children to develop confidence and skills.

Despite the program being almost universally called the Granny Cloud, volunteers don’t need to be an actual grandmother. In fact, the volunteer program is open to anyone of any sex or age with the time to contribute. The important characteristics are to be warm and supportive and respond to the children’s work in a flexible and spontaneous way.

Mitra’s work is based on the theory that conventional education systems are no longer appropriate for the modern world.

They were designed for an era where information was not freely available, and they value skills that are frequently redundant such as mental arithmetic. By encouraging curiosity and self-directed learning, he hopes to create opportunities for a wide range of young people who would otherwise miss out due to lack of access to, or alienation from the process of, formal education.


Access to information and encouragement is a key factor in the development of skills for young people around the world. If you do not have the time to become a Granny, why not consider donating to provide computers for a Cambodian school?

By doing this, you will improve children’s computer literacy and give them an advantage in today’s technological world.

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