Sugata Mitra mounted a PC with a broadband Internet connection in a wall in a slum area and waited to see what would happen. The best response was from getto kids ages 6-12, despite their rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Indeed, it appears by the time people at 16 or so, they come to believe they can only learn with teachers, while at earlier ages humans can learn anything!
The experiment wasn't without some tiny "teaching" but it certainly was minimally invasive as this excerpt from the interview relates:
The children create their own metaphors to do this. To give you an idea of what I mean, a journalist came up to one of these kids and asked him, "How do you know so much about computers?" The answer seemed very strange to her because the kid said, "What's a computer?" The terminology is not as important as the metaphor. If they've got the idea of how a mouse works and that the Internet is [like a wall they can paint on], who cares if they know that a computer is called a computer and a mouse is called a mouse? In most of our classes here at NIIT, we spend time teaching people the terminology and such. That seems irrelevant to me with these children.
But we also found that they would tend to plateau out. They would surf the Web -- Disney.com is very popular with them because they like games. And they would use [Microsoft] Paint. It's very, very popular with all of them.
Because these are deprived children who do not have easy access to paper and paint. Every child likes to paint, so they would do it with that program. However, that's all they could do. So I intervened, and I played an MP3 [digital-music file] for them. They were astonished to hear music come out of the computer for the first time. They said, "Oh, does it work like a TV or radio?" I said, in keeping with my approach, "Well, I know how to get there but I don't know how it works." Then I [left].
... seven days later they could have taught me a few things about MP3. They had discovered what MP3 was, downloaded free players, and were playing their favorite songs. As usual, they didn't know what any of it was called. But they would say, "if you take this little box, and you drag this file into this box, it plays music." They had found out where all the Hindi music was on the Web and had pulled it out.
He also found adults asking these kids to do things for them on the computer. And, remember, in only ten years these kids will be adults. All and all a very interesting article. If you are at all interested in the spread of computer literacy, you should read this article.