What I want for my Birthday…

Rehana burst into the lab with a big grin on her face and chattering excitedly. This was back in October 2009. And I was sitting – in between sessions – in the SOLE lab at the M A I M School, in the Kishan Bagh area of Hyderabad. This ‘in between’ time was when I tried to catch up with a few quick notes or check the computer ‘history’ to get a sense of what the children had been up to or seemed to have been interested in since my last visit. I had done this since the lab opened in April 2008.


teaching me Urdu words Walid, Walida

She was teaching me Urdu this time around – September 2008 [Photo: Suneeta]

It was also the time when children like Rehana would come in for a chat if they were passing by the lab. Sometimes, they were out of class on a ‘permission granted’ basis, on other occasions because they had sneaked in a little extra time while they were out for a drink of water or on a trip to the loo.

Rehana loved being in the lab. She played games like the other children, and valiantly (even if unsuccessfully, also like the other children), attempted to make sense of what a search for answers to ‘Big Questions’ threw up. And she loved the Granny sessions. Whether it was playing ‘Simon says’ with Kate and her grandson at the other end, or listening to Rosemary tell a story, Rehana was an enthusiastic participant with the rest of her group. It was rare for her to take a back row seat.

Simon says

Uh Oh! Simon did’nt say! A fun time with Kate and her grandson  – Oct. 2009 [Photo: Suneeta]

The SOLE lab had opened at M A I M in April 2008. It was the first of the Indian SOLEs to be set up. This was under Professor James Tooley’s and Professor Sugata Mitra’s (Newcastle University) OGEF Project, and over 2008-2009 11 labs was set up in and around the Hyderabad area, plus one more in Shirgaon, Maharashtra. But Rehana’s lab was the very first one. It was also the one where we did most of the initial ‘remote presence’ trials in late 2008 when the fact that the children were not going to be able to do SOLE sessions unless they actually had some English fluency became painfully clear in the very first few months. Remember, this was 2008-2009 and most of the material on the Internet was in English. And more often than not, the children came up with “no matches were found for this search” as the ‘answer’ to the question that had been given to them. Tells you a bit about the level of English comprehension, doesn’t it?!

Anyway, so here’s Rehana stating me she has to tell me something. Bright eyed and with a grin that spread from ear to ear, she was excited about her upcoming birthday. That’s usually when you can easily drop a few broad hints about what you would like to have and expect those wishes to be fulfilled. Well, Rehana had a wish list too. With just one item….

“Aunty”, she said, still chattering away – “every year I tell my Mother that I want new clothes and jewellery and toys for my birthday. But this year, I have told her – there is just one thing I want. A computer!”


Rehana had experienced the potential of what the computer and the Internet could do. That her family couldn’t afford a computer was something that had not crossed my mind. HER aspirations had changed.

And I? Once again, left convinced of the even greater impact that was possible when ideas and efforts complement, and work in tandem with each other. The SOLEs and the Granny Cloud – together.


Note: Name changed



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