Watching a TED talk this morning by Sugata Mitra, on a project I had heard about before, reaffirmed my own beliefs that our current school system is not set up to cater for the 21st century. Sugata is a software engineer, innovator, pioneer and educator who resisted the pull of the schooling system that the British empire initiated and that has become the norm, and he tested the boundaries of expectations and discovered amazing possibilities if we just put aside the default settings of teaching and learning. In his TED talk, ‘The Future of Learning’, Mitra boldly proclaims that “school as we know them are obsolete” (Mitra, 2013, 2:55) and “the education system is wonderfully constructed but not needed anymore… it’s outdated” (Mitra, 2013, 2:56). I believe he is right.
Mitra (2013) placed one computer in a hole in the wall of his office and let the local children engage with it in an unguided and free way. What ended up happening was that students started to teach each other how to browse he internet. He tried the experiment again and again, getting similarly surprising responses. When he eventually decided to create a serious hypothesis and test it out the results were astounding. He placed a computer, with lots of information downloaded onto it about DNA replication, in a remote Indian village and hypothesised that none of the Tamil-speaking children would be able to learning about DNA replication with materials only provided in English. After several months, some periodic testing, and an older student providing prompts in the form of questions, the children were able to achieve 50% on their DNA replication test. There was no teacher, the students taught themselves and taught each other and they broke down the barriers that we might think would prevent them from learning the material.
Do we have this same approach and mentality when we teach? No we don’t. Do we provide a stimulus, and then let them go for it, digesting and discovering resources for themselves and making meaning from it? I really want to be the type of teacher who enlarges the territory of learning for all of my students, who knows no limits in terms of what students might achieve. Who are we to say what they are capable of? The ‘hole in the wall’ experiment Mitra conducted went against all expectations and educational norms but it produced astounding outcomes and results. He goes onto say in the later half of his video that the notion of the Grandmother method and encouragement proved to be the key in the experience of he DNA replication project. The Grandmother method, he explained, was the addition of a 20-year-old student who stood behind the children engaging with the resources on the computer screen who asked them questions as simple as, “what are you doing now?” and “how do you do that?” and encouraging them.
From that one experiment with the older student, Mitra decided to engage as many British grannies as he could for another project. The Granny Cloud, as they have become known, are available via Skype whenever a child needs them and simply provides encouragement and questions to encourage in this ‘self-organised learning environment’, which Mitra (2013) says “are basically broadband, collaboration and encouragement put together” (16:56). It is from this that Mitra (2013) has determined his vision for the future of schooling. “My wish is to help design a future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together. Help me build this school. It will be called the School in the Cloud” (19:32). It’s a fantastic idea and the ideal way to take hold of the potential we have to learn collaboratively in the cloud.
Mitra, S. (2013). Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud. [online] https://www.ted.com/talks. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud#t-35640 [Accessed 15 Sep. 2014].