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Passing IT on in the slums of India

December 1, 2010

Traditional teaching methods dictate a teacher transferring knowledge to their pupil.  But what if students were provided with a computer and given responsibility for their own learning?

On last week’s Culture Show on BBC 2, Professor Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Languages at Newcastle University, revealed how he’s flipped tradition on its head, talking to Tim Samuels about the self-instruction and improvement which can be achieved through the use of computers.

12 years ago, while working in New Delhi as a computer programmer, Sugata became increasingly conscious that due to cost, only well off children were able to participate in his courses.  However, he remained convinced that money did not hamper learning ability.  To test his theory, he installed a computer, “like an ATM, in a wall in a slum.”

Children flocked to use them and as the computers worked in English, they would teach themselves the language so they could use them.

Sugata concluded “groups of children can learn to use computers on their own irrespective of who or where they are.”   Simply, they will learn to do what they want to learn to do.

Sugata has taken key elements of the experiment and tested the impact of a computer upon the learning of school age children in the UK.  Providing groups of four children with a computer and setting a question for each group to research and answer, he found they will collectively pool their knowledge resources and discover answers through being at the centre of their learning.  To test the absorption of knowledge, they were again asked the question months later; they could still replicate answers, illustrating their ability to self instruct and understand without the need for traditional teaching methods.

These experiments show that through technology, knowledge transmission does not have to depend on birthplace, money, or a tutor.  A computer and Internet access creates the opportunity for self-improvement and skills are highly transferable from one learner to the next.

Passing IT on is something we can all do, and maybe one day a Hole in the Wall computer will be as common as an ATM.

  • You can find out more about this and another of Sugata’s projects, such as the ‘Granny Cloud’ (a group of 200 UK volunteers who read, talk and play with children all around the world using Skype) by watching the clip.
  • Read more about Hole in the Wall education by clicking here
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