Expert lists novel ways of teaching kids
By Bonnie James
|Professor Sugata Mitra at WISE yesterday. Pictures: Ehab Suliaman|
“This could be achieved through 10mn Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLES) and 100mn moderators,” stated the expert, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, UK, in an address replete with examples of his novel experiments.
Professor Mitra, whose work on teaching children in Indian slums inspired compatriot diplomat Vikas Swarup to write the book “Q&A,” which became the multi-Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire, was speaking at a plenary session on innovation.
Active in the areas of cognitive science, information science, physics and energy for over three decades, the PhD holder in Theoretical Solid State Physics from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, has contributed a number of inventions and first-time applications.
His ‘hole in the wall’ experiments with the Internet and children have been reported worldwide since 1999. One of the best known aspects of professor Mitra’s work is his discovery that the Internet, computers and children are literally “made for each other” with cognitive processes so similar that children need little or no instruction to master computing at the basic level.
“I left a computer connected to broadband in an Indian village and when I went back after two months, an eight-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, who did not have any prior knowledge of English or technology, told me that they need a faster processor and a mouse,” professor Mitra recalled to a round of rousing applause from the audience.
By citing other examples of his pioneering work in this regard, the speaker substantiated that groups of children in SOLES can learn to use computers and Internet on their own, apart from reaping benefits, including picking up functional English and improving pronunciation.
One of his experiments involving Tamil- (a south Indian regional language) speaking children and biotechnology materials in English, provided in a computer, showed that after two months the target group scored 30% in a test.
“When I took on board a local girl, who did not know any biotechnology, just to encourage the children for another two months, their score went up to 55%,” he said.
In an experiment carried out at a school in Gateshead, England, professor Mitra took a group of 10-year-olds, divided them into eight groups of four each, gave one laptop and six GCSE questions to each group, in an open-source test environment.
The best group finished in 20 minutes and the worst group in 45 minutes and professor Mitra had teachers asking him what was so great as the children ‘just copied’ the answers from Internet and books.
“When I gave them a test with no reference materials after two months, the children scored as much as 77%,” he pointed out.
Another of professor Mitra’s experiment features volunteer grandmothers, from Newcastle in England, reading to children in Hyderabad, 5,000 miles apart, through the Internet.
“For the future of learning, we need subsidised broadband and electricity in all schools, self-organised fault tolerant technology, and SOLES,” he suggested.
Professor Mitra, who believes that it is attitude that matters and not technology, also disclosed that he spoke to Google recently and they were ‘excited’ about his work and current research leading towards an alternative primary education which uses self-organised learning, mediation and assessment environments.