I was really awed and amazed by the information in this article. It is almost philosophical that the human mind is truly amazing. Even more so when it is not trained to a certain norm. We all learn our first language and become fairly fluent by the time we are 2 years old. I once read somewhere that children start picking up vocabulary and understanding the language well before the one and half - 2 year mark. It is the ability to make the appropriate sounds that take a while to develop.
Another thing that came to mind is a story that my advisor once related about her advisor, lets call him Mr.X for now. In the slightly olden times when you had little to no internet access and had to go to the library to physically browse through piles of journals to do your literature survey, Mr X, would not allow his students to begin with literature search, instead he would provide an area or problem and wait for the student to come back to him with ideas. He of course knew the literature and could then guide them based on what was already done and what was novel. His theory behind this practice was that beginning with literature reading would restrict the human imagination, we would unintentionally draw boundaries about the solution space for the given problem. For some reason that theory always made perfect sense to me though many people I have related it to do not seem to agree.
Anyway, coming back to the question of is this kind of practice necessary when there is a lack of other basic needs. I would Yes!.. Ultimately what a child wants (both real and the inner child in adults) is hope.. We look for that in all situations.. even when all the chips are down.. one tiny corner of our brain (I refuse to use the word heart :)- never made sense to me) looks for signs of hope. This is what this program does. We may not be able to solve the larger basic needs issue, but this concept gives the children a chance for a positive change.
I do have an idea that could be tried both from a purely scientific study point of view and a way to add-on to the program. It would be interesting to analyze how much the children can teach each other - Ask students who have already been part of this study to go a completely new village and get them to teach the kids there. I realize this is ambitious but for some reason I think they may get across to their fellow students a lot faster than we adults can.