Sugata Mitra, Professor, Educational Technology, School of Education, Communication and Language, Newcastle University
The Hole in the Wall: 1999 – 2005
His experiment placed a single computer in a wall in a slum, publicly available to school children in New Delhi. This allowed students to learn how to use a computer just by fooling around and playing with it. It was a wildly successful experiment.
At that time, computers were considerably more expensive than they are today. The only organizations at that time that put computers out in public were banks – ATM machines. I did not explain to the children what it was when they asked – I told them “I don’t know!” While I stood there, they didn’t do anything except stare at me. So I walked away, and that’s when they started interacting with the computer. After eight hours, I came back and found that they were teaching each other how to surf the Internet, and so on. After a few days, they were downloading and playing games!
What does it need to work? A big screen, to be outdoors and free.
The important thing here is that THERE WAS NO TEACHER! Everywhere I went and conducted this experiment, I got the same results. The question I was asking was WHO was teaching the children, when I should have been asking WHAT was teaching the children. This creates a strange kind of learning. Children, given access to the Internet in groups, can learn anything by themselves.
In nine months, kids can learn completely on their own with the Internet, the same level of computer competence as an average administrative assistant in the West. From there, they can teach themselves anything.
SOLE: Self Organized Learning Environments
Connecting lots of individuals together creates emergent behavior in complex, self-organizing behavior. It became clear through this experiment that children in groups have an understanding that is greater than that of each individual. It was this collective “hive” mind that was working like an efficient teacher.
Can objectives be achieved without hierarchical management? YES! What is required is desire.
Children begin to answer questions far ahead of their time. It helps if you admire them. I called this the method of the grandparent; admire and respect the children’s knowledge. We created “The Granny Cloud” from 2009 onwards. Main admonishment is DO NOT TEACH!
With the winnings from Ted, we created the School in the Cloud, which combines aspects of the Hole in the Wall experiment with the Granny Cloud. School in the Cloud helps children with:
- Reading comprehension
- Communication skills
- Internet searching skills
- Self confidence
We think we can tell the learner where to go, but that’s not true.
The Challenge of Assessment
Current assessments match rooms filled with clerks from the 1920s. You need to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic. Talking to your neighbors was not encouraged.
In order to cater to the needs of an obsolete examination system, teachers, good or bad, need to use teaching methods from the 19th century. Instead, we need to make examinations look more like the Hole in the Wall experiment. “My phone and I” know how to do almost anything.
Comprehension, communication and computation: need to be the key concepts that include reading, writing and arithmetic. We need to ask ourselves: what is the best way to communicate?
Schools should produce happy, healthy and productive people.
We need a curriculum of questions, not facts, a pedagogy that encourages collaboration and use of the Internet, an assessment system that looks for productivity over process and method.