Speak Your Mind! – How Sugata Mitra’s minimally invasive education is transforming learning: “From ‘Hole in the Wall’ to ‘Schools in the Cloud’
Sugata Mitra, a legendary innovator in education and promoter of the self-organized learning environment (SOLE) concept, challenges teachers to become the ultimate facilitators of learning and to reimagine our classrooms as spaces for discovery where students are given the tools to succeed as we stand back and “watch the learning happen.” In 2013, he was awarded the first-ever $1 million TED Prize, to put his educational ideas together to create seven laboratories called ‘Schools in the Cloud’.
His 1999 “Hole in the Wall” experiment proved that kids could be taught computers easily without formal training and this method became known as Minimally Invasive Education.
As early as 1982, Mitra had been toying with the idea of unsupervised learning and computers. Finally, in 1999, he decided to test his ideas in the field. Sugata Mitra put a computer connected to the internet in a hole in the wall in a slum in Delhi and just left it there, to see what would happen. The computer attracted a number of illiterate, slum children, who, by the end of the first day had taught themselves to surf the internet, despite not knowing what a computer or the internet were, or being able to read.
Encouraged by the success of the Kalkaji experiment, freely accessible computers were set up in Shivpuri (a town in Madhya Pradesh) and in Madantusi (a village in Uttar Pradesh). These experiments came to be known as Hole-in-the-Wall experiments. The findings from Shivpuri and Madantusi confirmed the results of Kalkaji experiments. It appeared that the children in these two places picked up computer skills on their own. Dr. Mitra defined this as a new way of learning – Minimally Invasive Education.
Encouraged by the success of the Kalkaji experiment, freely accessible computers were set up in Shivpuri (a town in Madhya Pradesh) and in Madantusi (a village in Uttar Pradesh). These experiments came to be known as Hole-in-the-Wall experiments. The findings from Shivpuri and Madantusi confirmed the results of Kalkaji experiments. It appeared that the children in these two places picked up computer skills on their own. Dr. Mitra defined this as a new way of learning – Minimally Invasive Education:
The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.
Over the next five years Mitra progressed his hole in the wall experiment to focus on delivering more specific knowledge – by posing questions via the computer in the hole in the wall. One question he asked, for example, was ‘why does hair grow’? After a few days, non-English speaking Tamil students were able to answer this question with reference to cell-biology.
Digital Age Education: Sugata Mitra’s call for a ‘Just-in-Time’ Model of Learning
Mitra advanced his experiment even further in the UK – bringing his methods to Schools of Gateshead – where, without the English language barrier, students as young as nine were able to teach themselves about Quantum Entanglement, just from the internet. The absence of a teacher was acting as a pedagogical tool.
This is the absolute opposite of our current model of education, which Mitra argues was built to meet the needs of the British Empire, when people had to do the work of machines, and the system needed identical people who needed to be taught to not ask questions, and under no circumstances be creative. We still have this model today – which is also a ‘just in case’ model of education – we teach people to be able to do things (e.g. solve quadratic equations) just in case they need to be able to do so.
According to Mitra, this model is completely out of date and out of touch with (post?) modern times – now that all knowledge is available online, the idea of individual knowledge is simply redundant: we don’t need to know until we need to know – and we need to move to a ‘just in time’ model of education, in which kids are allowed to learn quickly from the internet what they need when they need it.
Mitra isn’t saying that we don’t need teachers, just that don’t need the type of teacher who gives uni-directional instructions, rather you need a teacher to be a friend, for moral support and a role model, to guide you through learning. What children need is a a self-organized learning environment – and it does help if you have an adult who isn’t necessarily knowledgeable but is admiring, who spurs children on (like his own Grandmother did).
All of this raises the question of whether we actually need schools? The general consensus of the program seems to be that we do, but primarily because they are social environments, and children benefit from the social aspect of schooling, and that we don’t necessarily need traditional teachers.
Mitra also suggests that we need to re-think about what socializing actually is, and how technology might be changing this.
And while he is best known for his education work Mitra has had quite a remarkable track record of innovation in many other areas including battery technology, Alzheimer’s Disease research and even the Yellow Pages industry for India and Bangladesh.
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