30 January 2016

A School in the Cloud...

I recently saw a TED video and was moved by the content and scope of the talk. For those who are not familiar with TED, it is an online database of brilliant lectures on various topics. In this lecture, Sugata Mitra begins by speaking of his previous life as a computer programmer. One day, after speaking with co-workers who kept exclaiming to him how smart their children were, Sugata had an epiphany. He wondered to himself why only the children born into wealthy families were supposedly gifted. He decided to perform an informal experiment. Next to his office was an Indian slum. He cut a whole in the wall and inserted a computer. The local children began to use it. Within 8 hours, they had learned how to use the mouse and browse the internet.

Without getting into too much detail about he video (because he is an excellent speaker and it is definitely worth a look), I will say that I was absolutely astonished at the progress that the program has made. The organization is named S.O.L.E (Self Organized Learning Environments). The gist of this program is to give children access to the internet, then give them a question you want answered (it can be as specific or general as you would like), and finally, to observe them and give positive feedback on their progress. It allows them to be creative in their pursuit of knowledge. I know that many of you future teachers may be thinking the same thing I did when I first saw the video, which is, "Are you crazy? Education without teachers?!? That would make our jobs obsolete!!" However; there is still room for educators in this new world, albeit with a new role. Mitra suggests a form of "grandma instruction," wherein the educators simply stand behind the students and provide positive reinforcement of the students' progress similarly to how a grandmother would be amazed at a new technology. They facilitate learning by directing the children's creativity in whichever direction that they so choose.

So what are his results? There are critics of his methods, as there are with any new educational model. Some say that the method is not successful and that the students, when left to themselves, will only play online games and listen to music. However are we not in the business of creating future leaders? I can think of no better way to teach personal responsibility than by allowing the students to own their schooling. Mitra had students with little or no education researching complicated scientific innovations that were 10 years ahead of current progress! Not only that, but the children were forced to learn English to use the computer. Without any classes, they began to speak English within a matter of weeks. Within a few months, these children from the slums of India had closed the gap between them and their more wealthy counterparts. Mitra is attempting to spread his S.O.L.E. groups around the world. This may be the future of education, or it may not be; however we have the solemn responsibility of at least making an effort to find out. I applaud Mitra's courage and dedication to 21st century teaching.  So what do you think?  Take a look at the video below and decide for yourself.


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