A Leap of Faith
There is a school of thought which says that if you can create the right conditions, children are able to take care of their own learning and development.
You may be aware of Dr Sugata Mitra’s project, “Hole in the Wall”.
In 1999, whilst working teaching people how to write computer programmes in New Delhi, he dug a hole in a wall bordering the urban slum next to his office, installed an Internet-connected PC, at child height, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). The children from the slum learned how to use it (with no adult intervention) and how to go online - teaching themselves some English in the process - and then they taught each other.
He repeated this experiment in many different parts of India, and the results were the same - so he started publishing his findings, which were basically that in 9 months, a bunch of children left alone with a computer, in any language, would reach the same standard as an office secretary in the West.
Dr Mitra then developed this into a further project, “School in the Cloud”, whereby children independently using a computer to learn - anywhere in India - can, if they need help, remotely access a volunteer granny, an ex-teacher, who will provide assistance, and more importantly give encouragement.
He calls it The Granny Cloud.
He has a couple of hugely inspiring TED talks, I encourage you to check them out, if you haven’t already. Here's one:
His dream is a computer for every child and the spread of what he calls, SOLES - that’s Self-Organised Learning Environments, enabled by the supply of only three things; broadband - peer collaboration - adult encouragement.
Dr Mitra’s rather radical hypothesis is that in the Digital Age, we are moving to a time when ‘Knowing will be Obsolete’ - this is quite startling I think when you first hear it, but actually it’s the logical progression of what we are all experiencing in our schools.
Back in the day when I, and some of you probably, were at school - in the days of chalk and blackboard - there was still a pretty clear delineation. The grown-ups knew how stuff worked and had access to all the knowledge, and bit by bit they shared it with us, the kids. This is not so now - I’m sure we’ve all been in the situation where we’ve needed a child’s help to deal with some piece of technology that we’re not quite up to speed with - so the balance has shifted but our educational model hasn’t.
Now - a child can access any piece of information they want to, it's all available to them and only a click away. It’s no longer the adult world saying, “I know more, listen to me”, and of course the child realises that, the child realises that the power balance - if knowledge is indeed power - has shifted. So logically our educational model needs to shift too - now, it can be about, “What shall we find out today? Together.”
Because of our technological advances, we’re a at a hugely liberating time. If we’re brave, we can take the opportunity to really increase meaningful learning for so many of our children - particularly those who don’t take to, or can’t access, traditional schooling quite so easily. But it's up to us to take that leap.
It may be a leap of faith, but it's a leap of faith in our children, and for those of us who believe in their capabilities - that's not so scary!