Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Hole In The Wall: Self Organising Systems in Education

{Live capture of keynote from Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology, Newcastle University}

What do we have to do to fulfil the four capacities and how do we measure if we are successful?

A fairly small proportion of the world's children have access to "adequate resources" to support learning. In UK there are problems with aspiration. ("Why should I be a professor like you when I can earn as much driving a bus?") In some areas of the world there are problems with access.

"When I need to know something, I can find out in 5 minutes" - Young child in the UK.

"We can't use the Internet because the school didn't pay for it." - Young child in India.

Professor Mitra found that performance in schools dropped off as the schools got further away from Delhi. Part of the problem was that teachers further from Dehli wanted to move and good teachers were able to move to "better areas". He found similar problems in UK - not geographically remote but high council house areas performed more poorly than schools in areas with higher proportion of private housing.

Showed videos of children exploring, browsing and using software on computers placed in remote areas. Software was in English and children had no prior experience of computers and yet they learned and reached a very high level of competence within a few months.

Arthur C Clark - "Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer should be!" "If children are interested, they will learn."

Another experiment was to put speech to text software in a school for poor children. The software could not understand their English, so they were told they had to learn how to make the software work. They invented their own pedagogy - they downloaded the Oxford speaking dictionary and taught themselves by copying its accent.

"If there is stuff on Google, why do we need to stuff it into our heads?"

Designed an experiment to see if children can teach themselves anything (Kalkuppam Experiment - BJET). A poor, Tamil speaking, tsunami hit village school were given material on DNA replication (in English) and left them to explore and discover what they could. They thought they had not understood anything but had actually discovered an incredible amount - the bar we set as teachers are often much lower than the bar they set themselves. With the help of a friendly mediator using the "Granny Technique" who stood behind them and admired what they were doing! They got their test scores up to the same level as children in better equipped schools with biology teachers.

Self-organised learning environments. Children can go very far but a friendly mediator ("the granny cloud") can help. Children not only learn, but retain and improve on scores because they have worked out how to do it themselves.

How far can we go? "The ten year old doesn't stop; we stop them!" Do age and stage impositions limit children?

Two skills at the heart of this:
  1. Information search and analysis
  2. Reading comprehension
Theses are the most essential skills for primary education today.

What is happening? It is a self-organising system - the system structure appears without external input. Self organising systems are emergent phenomenon - they surprise us.

Speculation: Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.

See his wikispace for more information.


David said...

Sugata's TED talk (he has also done another more recent one in Feb this year) Great stuff - I showed my S5 class they were engrossed..and fearful for their future careers! 8-)

David said...

Thanks for the link to the TED talk. The chap I was sitting beside raved about his TED talks and I was going to look them up tomorrow... but you've saved me the trouble!

Thanks again.

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