Professor Sugata Mitra presented two weeks ago at LIFT an engaging presentation about remoteness and the quality of education. Remoteness not only in geographic sense, but also the remoteness from means, materials and education in general. Professor Sugata has suggested that in many countries (not only those typically associated with third world countries), the schools in remote areas suffer from what he quoted “not good enough”: not good enough teachers, nor not good enough educational technologies.

Professor Sugata Mitra

The first is mostly caused by problems like teacher’s retention, or how can we as society attract more teachers to those almost abandoned areas, and second, for reasons like the preference of affluent urban schools in detriment of the more remote schools for piloting technologies. How apparently in good schools with excellent (or at least rather motivated) teachers and students, the EI is many times perceived as over-hyped and under-performing in the educational values. In Professor’s Mitra opinion, and something I personally believe in, the particularities of the less fortunate and remote schools implies that they should be the ones actually, experimenting and be targeted by the pilots with educational technologies.

States should be actively searching and testing alternatives to primary education, whether schools don’t exist, or simply aren’t enough, schools where teachers aren’t available or aren’t the “best ones”. According to the experiments Professor Sugata conducted along the years, he not only discovered but also helped prove that children are particularly well adapted to self learning and organization.

The Kalkaji, Mandantusi and the Hole in the Wall experiments all seem to enforce this precise idea. The concept of the experiments, were simple: embed a PC into a hole in some remote location; places where children didn’t have much or no contact with technologies. “Et voilá!” the results were not only surprising, but they ended up helped raising more questions than real answers. For instance, the language in which the computers were running didn’t seem important for the interaction, in some cases it even helped demonstrate in a matter of hours/days, how children can actually learn some vocabulary (approx. 200 different words), all of them extrapolated from the simple interaction with the machine.

In a matter of 7 hours of interaction with the PC on the Kalkaji Experiment, 17 youngsters were already browsing in Internet, proving that children and teenagers can actually be self educated. This is more or less common fact, but the truth is that we all keep forgetting how simple this can be and actually happen on a regular basis. According to his presentation, during the Mandantusi, where the PC wasn’t actually connected to the internet, but was only packed with a large collection of CD’s and DVD’s, and an experiment, were the target audience didn’t had any previous education in english, on the post experience interviews, most of the investigators were more or less surprised with requests like “a better processor and nicer mouse””!! 😀

The Hole in the Wall project not only helped prove the fact that youngsters and teens can be self taught, but also helped understand a bit of more of the self-learning process. As an example of the results from this experiments, Mitra quoted that personal connections have a deep impact on the learning process: 6-13 yo seemed to learn better when integrated in groups, regardless of their education as a whole, the results were quite uniform in groups with different background. This project also documented the kind of stuff students were using the PC for: basic windows functions, browsing, gaming, chatting, email, music download, painting, learn from educational material and other computer based activities.

The fact remains, during the curse of his experiments, more than 300 children became computer literate in 3 months with just one Computer!!

Natural systems seem to be self organized, from Chaos seems to arise the order, we all now the paradigm, but what matters to this professor and should also matters for a a lot of people on the education structures is how can we seemly make the transition from the current educational model to the self-organizing model. So should we just be “letting happen” or should we look at self organizing, natural, systems and try to improve from there our current models? Well there’s no master plan yet, but Professor Sugata Mitra did leave some key ideas for the sake of the Primary Education 2.0:

  • Remotness affects que quality of eductation;
  • Remote locations should be taken care first;
  • Values are adquired, doctrine and dogma are imposed;
  • Learning is a self-organized process;
  • to address remoteness, values and violence;

In his opinion the only form to actively solve the remoteness problems of education is thru Outdoctrination, or self-organization, which makes me wonder if this would actually workout in the Portuguese case, or if we could reproduce it on a larger level and maybe try to educate other generations of citizens thru a massive self-learning network and always on system?

Note: Bruno and Stephanie also posted their notes (much, much sooner then I) about Professor Mitra presentation at LIFT, in case you’re interested just follow the links to their blogs! 😉