No Teachers Needed

I can lose a lot of time watching / listening to TED Talks.

Sugata Mitra points out that there are many places on earth where, for one reason or another, “good teachers won’t go.” Maybe it’s a safety issue; maybe the pay is too low. Whatever the case, teachers aren’t there.

So what did he do in 1999? He went to a slum in New Delhi, put a computer in a public wall, then “connected high speed internet to it — it’s about three feet off the ground — turned it on and left it there.” After seeing a computer for the first time in their lives, within hours, children had figured out how to browse the Web. They recorded music.

In 2006, Mitra set up another experiment: “I set myself and impossible target: can Tamil speaking 12-year-old children in a South Indian village teach themselves biotechnology in English on their own?” After two months with just a computer to guide 26 students, they sadly informed the scientist that they learned nothing…except how genetic diseases come from flawed DNA replication. That got the kids to 30%, in his estimation. To get them to 50%, which is where students in expensive Indian schools were scoring, he had a local woman watch the children and praise whatever they did.

That’s right. She did no teaching, per se, just encouraging. Scores went to 50%.

Now Mitra has what he calls “the granny cloud,” literally a group of grandmothers who volunteer to do Skype sessions one hour per week to help students who need more guidance. Students can dial up a granny if they want, or they can work by themselves at their computers.

Some conclusions worth bulleting are these three, I think:

  • Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do.
  • A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.
  • If children have interest, then education happens.

It’s funny just how much American students come to rely on teachers. “I practically had to teach myself!” a college student will say to a friend, and it’s not a compliment. Perhaps the teaching was sub par, but perhaps that was the goal, for students to learn how to learn. A little less hand-holding but a lot more experimenting, failing and starting again, learning from mistakes, working with peers to solve problems?

Sounds like career training to me.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s