From the perspective of mechanistic
parsimony — why invent two different
mechanisms when you already have
a good one? — it would make sense
for the infant brain as well as a later
learning system to make use of the
same kinds of algorithms.
But as I said, these are speculations.
And almost certainly there are
some differences. The Prakash children
already have information about the
world. They know that the world is
made up of objects. They even know
the names of some of these objects. So
for them, when they’re trying to make
sense of the visual world, the task is
associating the visual information with
the labels that they already possess. For
a baby, the task is twofold. Babies have
to make sense of the visual information
Slide show: See more photos from Project Prakash.
and then they also have to discover the
labels of these objects. So, the tasks are
different, but I think we will find that
some of the basic components of the
mechanisms are shared.
How many children has Project
We have treated 440 children surgically,
and about 1,400 non-surgically. To
identify these children, we’ve had to
screen over 40,000.
Even though these numbers seem
impressive, when you put them in the
context of the true need in a developing
country like India, you realize what a
minuscule amount of the problem we
have really tackled. There are probably
around 200,000 or 300,000 children who
can be treated, so for us to derive much
reach out to many, many more of these
children. So that’s one consideration,
scaling up our efforts.
The other is education. When
we started this project, we had a
somewhat Pollyanna-ish view of how
things would proceed. We thought
that these children would gain sight,
and then the world would open up
for them — they would be able to get
admission into a regular school, get a
good education and then move into
the workforce. But we have found to
our disappointment that many of them
do not go into the schooling system
because even though they now have
sight, the system thinks they’re too old
to start in grade one.
For these children to fully benefit
mainstreamed into a regular school.
We have started doing this in a very
small way with volunteers who work
one-on-one with the Prakash children.
And it’s been amazing to see just how
quickly a Prakash child, starting with
zero education, is able to progress up to,
say, a grade five level, in a matter of six
So there are three aspects: the
expanded health-care aspect, the
inclusion of education and then certainly
research, expanding the research and
working with many more of these
Our hope is that we would be able
to integrate all three of these aspects, by
having one campus — that we call the
Prakash Center for Children — where
happiness from having treated 440 of
those — it’s premature.
What are your future plans?
We need to be able to expand out, to
from the new sight, [we need] to provide
them the beginnings of an education,
essentially a compressed scholastic
course that brings them to an age-
appropriate level. After that, they can be
the pediatric hospital, the research
facility and the school for the children
will all be co-located. This is the dream
for us. We want to make this Prakash
Center for Children happen. n