A world where students teach themselves with the help of the Internet, encouraged by grannies but with no teacher to punish when the homework is not done or when the handwriting is not neat — Dr Sugata Mitra, the man behind the Hole in the Wall experiment in Delhi, shared his concept of an ideal educational environment with students at South City International School.
Mitra began his speech, The Future of Learning, by breaking stereotypes. “The reason why students are not allowed Internet-connected tabs in examination halls is because it is feared that everybody will excel. But it is not true. There will always be some who will get to the right answer faster and more cleverly than others and performances will vary accordingly,” said the professor of education technology at Newcastle University in the UK.
Explaining how the examination system drives the education system and teaching method, he said: “There was a time when paper was expensive and exams were conducted orally. Later paper became cheap and students began writing their exams. Thus the stress was on good handwriting. Now tablet is the new paper. It has to be allowed inside exam halls sometime soon.”
Mitra, the winner of this year’s TED prize, spoke about his various experiments from Hole in the Wall, that saw a computer being installed in a slum and “eight hours later the slum kids were surfing and teaching each other”, to the Kuppam experience in Pondicherry where children taught themselves bio-technology with the help of the Internet.
It was experiments such as these that led Mitra to come up with his Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) module, which he plans to implement in India and the UK with his prize money.
Mitra has a team of “grannies” egging children on through Skype. “We have a new kind of school environment here. Even if you have good teachers in school, this system will assist in self-learning. A granny will help you and if you don’t want her you can switch her off,” he said.
He also plans to start Schools in Cloud, “a learning lab where students can embark on their own intellectual adventure online”, in remote areas. “Children can come and learn what they want…. Teachers are available on Skype if they need help. This way education can reach remote areas.”
Sristi Das, a student of Class VIII at South City International School, was “amazed” at Mitra’s ideas. “The experiment sounds real fun, but I think we do need a teacher’s advice at times.”