I couldn’t quite believe this when I came across it earlier today, but it is most definitely worth a read: India: Hole in the Wall.
Taking the basic premise that children can teach themselves, New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra placed a high-spec Internet-enabled PC in a wall, next to a slum area, and left the children to use it any way they wanted. Without any prompting or guidance they taught themselves to use it (even if they didn’t know the technical terms involved); point-and-click, drag-and-drop, browsing, drawing, etc.
Mitra discovered “… that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.”
He followed this up with an experiment: tow boys and two girls from the 9th grade. he gave them their physics exam-style question and two hours to figure out his “problem”. Their teachers talked to them afterwards and was impressed that they’d found out so much. He said;
“They don’t know everything about this subject or everything I would teach them. But they do know one hell of a lot about it. And they know a couple of things about it I didn’t know.”
What is the purpose of this? Well, I see it as the question about spending time and money teaching children to use the technology when they can quite competently teach themselves (and each other). if we were to concentrate on the subject we can use the technology to back it up and make it interesting for them.
What does this mean? I don’t think we give children / learners enough credit to be adaptable enough to figure things out on their own. The 9th grade kids used the Internet and found an understanding of some pretty complex physics concepts; even if it wasn’t enough to pass the exam, it was enough to impress their teachers .. and make him realise that he didn’t know everything.
And what of the kids in the slums? While none (or very few anyway) of them had any previous experience of using a computer, they knew enough from what they’d heard that they could use it to draw and find things out. Once Mitra said they could listen to music (but not show them) they figured it out, on their own.
We shouldn’t under-estimate the power of self-motivation and the will to learn and better themselves!