The rise of new education

Hole in the wall

Children can learn anything on their own, using the Internet in groups. Indeed, ‘learning’ is no longer as important as it once was.

When I did an experiment with children and embedded a computer connected to the internet in a slum wall in New Delhi, I knew nothing about it (1999).

The kids, who hadn’t seen a computer or listened to the internet that day, started surfing on their own in a matter of hours. They learned to play games, paint and find information. They learned a little English. We were amazed at the appreciation of the adults. The press called it a ‘hole in the wall’.

With the financial support of the World Bank, ICICI Bank and the Government of Delhi, we repeated this experiment all over India. The result has always been the same – digital literacy is nowhere to be found.

The children started using the internet for their homework. They copied from websites and showed off their stunned teachers. ‘It’s not learning’, everyone advised me. He and I had missed an important point, a mistake I would have had to make for many years. The children were mimicking the right things. How did they find related websites? How did they get the right answers?

The children in the group have a greater understanding than each individual. This collective ‘hive’ mind was working as an efficient teacher. It took me years to realize that we were seeing a self-organizing system जि where the spontaneous sequence is nowhere to be seen.

Self-organized learning environment

I got 200 results in England. There with the help of the teacher we created a “hole in the wall” in the classroom. We call it the Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE). It involved mild chaotic conditions due to some internet connections, about a quarter of the number of children present. The children formed groups, as they did in Indian experiments. They began to answer questions beyond their time. We complimented them – they laughed and walked away.

I created ‘Granny Cloud’ for kids, which had people talking to kids on Skype. They don’t teach, they encourage children to learn on their own.

In 2013, using the TED prize, I built seven ‘schools in the cloud’. Five of them are in India from remote Sundarbans to urban Maharashtra. Three of the five were from the community and two from school. Then we built two in urban schools in England. A year or so later, I added two more – one in Harlem, USA and the other in Dasghara, West Bengal, both primary schools.

We found significant improvements in English reading comprehension, conversation, confidence, internet usage, and search skills.

‘Cloud in school’ does not work outside of schools. Facilities built outside the schools were closed within a few months after the funds ran out. On the other hand, all the facilities built in the schools survived, except one.

The virus stopped exams and education faced its obsolescence.

Most school curricula are from the last century. In the examination system, students are required to answer the questions on paper using handwriting. The student should not use any assistive technology.

In order to meet the needs of such an examination system, the teacher, good or bad, must use teaching methods from 19Th Centuries with rot learning and negative reinforcement.

After the school year, in the real world, students are expected to use the Internet to solve problems, collaborate with others, and use assistive technology whenever possible. In other words, the learner is asked to do the opposite of what she did in school.

The examination system needs to be changed to solve collaborative problems using assistive technology. This will lead to global change in education.

This should happen. There is a generation that uses assistive technology, especially smartphones, except when in school. They constantly learn from these tools.

Fortunately, teachers understand this. Since 2014, and especially during the epidemic, teachers around the world were creating SOLE in their schools. Collectively, they are changing the nature of education.

When the automobile was seized from the horse-drawn carriage, the trainer disappeared and became a passenger driver. Eventually, cars will drive themselves and ‘driving’ will become an obsolete skill. From now on, a 20-year-old boy will ask, what is ‘driving’? ‘

When the Internet takes over from ‘taught’ schools, learners become their own teachers. Unless the vast network learns all and ‘learning’ itself becomes obsolete.

A boy, 50 years from now, what is ‘learning’?

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About the author

Author: Prof. Sugata Mitra

Prof. Sugata Mitra, an expert in education technology, will be the keynote speaker at the International Summit on Early Years (ISEY) 2021 organized by KLAY Pre-School and Day Care. He will give a talk on ‘Forward’ to Normal-A Practical Post-Pandemic Approach to Education. He is a former professor at the University of Newcastle in England where he taught educational technology. His ‘whole-in-the-wall’ experiments with children and the development of the Internet and subsequent self-organized learning environment are recognized worldwide.

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