The Redefining of Schools
What is a school? A place for learning, to be taught, to sit down and be bored for an entire day, a place you love, a place you hate. I recently watched a TED talk by Dr. Sugata Mitra about schools of the future. It turns out that the modern concept of a school originated during the Victorian era, the golden age of British colonialism, where masses of people were needed to administer the empire which covered almost a quarter of the world’s landmass and one fifth of the world’s population, the empire upon which the sun never set. In order to guarantee the same style and level of administrative competence the world over, the colonial administration exported and copied the fine British schooling tradition abroad in a majority of its territories. Such actions not only guaranteed that English became the ‘world’ language, but also ensured that every classroom in every country by the 20th century pretty much looked the same.
However, the 21st century is bound to turn the great British legacy on its head. In the past few years, during my school years and now as I work, I am learning and acquiring new skills and knowledge independent of a teacher or formalized education – I am literally plucking new skills out of thin air, or not. The way I have learned is through experimentation, failure, repeated experimentation and usually, eventual success. This is coupled with a human being’s innate ability to improve upon their current technology, and I have managed to optimize my approaches so that my new skills become increasingly honed.
Dr. Mitra is the initiator of the ‘Hole in the Wall’ computer-based learning project which aims to establish that children, irrespective of their current level of education or literacy, are capable of learning more or less anything at a faster pace than conventional education if left to their own devices with a computer and a ‘gran’ (supervisor) to guide their work processes. No teachers. No classrooms. This project started in 1999 when Dr. Mitra placed a computer in a village in rural India, fixed into the wall, and without providing any explanation, left the children of the village to investigate. Sometime later he returned to find the children not only using the computer, despite the system being in English, but also asking the professor for a faster computer with more memory and a faster processor. These children had made the remarkable leap from knowing not even what a computer is, to being able to use a computer and also recognize that they needed a better computer! The professor repeated the experiment over and over again in different villages and even in different countries with different tasks in place for the children to tackle. Similar results popped up everywhere; Children teaching themselves. Think about the implications. Education in schools is not always going to be equal, especially when viewed within a rich vs. poor scale. A computer, however, which becomes a focal point for children and a hive of collaborative effort, can even the playing field for children the world over. This is called Minimally Invasive Education (MIE for short). It involves peer-to-peer education and NO teachers.
Traditional British-style education is at risk of being replaced at a lower level, especially in poorer and more rural areas, not by another education system, but by a computer and an internet connection. This is the break we’ve been waiting for as educators, a way to make education fair and available for all.
If you’re interested in learning more about the project, please visit Hole-in-the-wall organization official website.
Author: David Janke (United Kingdom)