IATEFL Harrogate Online: Sugata Mitra (part 2)

This is part 2 - part 1 can be read here

Sugata Mitra's plenary on the last day of the IATEFL conference was entitled The Future of Learning, which "takes us through the origins of schooling as we know it" and explores his work related to self-organising learning environments.

In the introduction, Sugata offers a disclaimer to what is about to follow: "I'm just going to tell you a sequence of work, which leads to a certain kind of conclusion. That conclusion is not, perhaps, entirely cast in stone, but the experiment and results are there."

Mitra started with "a few things we know." 

We know that it is difficult to get good teachers in remote places. 

Here, Sugata Mitra talks about an experiment he conducted 7-8 years ago heading out of New Delhi and stopping at state primary schools to administer a test of English, Maths and Science. Mitra plotted the results (see left) of the test and compared them to the distance from Delhi and they showed clearly for him that schooling got worse as you moved away from Delhi. This was puzzling as he didn't have a reason to explain this. All of the schools had the same number of teachers and the same level of funding. He found the answer to this by asking a question (Would you like to work somewhere else?) in each of the schools. In Delhi, the teachers said they didn't want to. 50 miles out of Delhi, the teachers doubted. 100 miles outside of Delhi the teachers commented that they would rather be nearer to Delhi. At 250 miles from Delhi the teachers answered "anywhere but here." This showed that the best teachers generally got jobs in Delhi. A problem like this can be solved in various ways. He asked the teachers if they would be happier if they were paid more. The response was generally negative. The government's response was to train the teachers who worked in these remote areas until they become really good. Unfortunately, Sugata asks "What do you think will happen to the teacher who becomes really good? She goes off to Delhi!". This is a social problem, more than anything. 

I think the situation outlined above rings true in Uruguay too. In Montevideo, it is easier to find English teachers for state schools - in rural areas, as you move further from the capital, it is harder. Past programmes that concentrated on training primary teachers to become English teachers have led to many of them leaving the rural schools they worked at (what I don't know is where they move to).

In a developed economy, such as the UK, this does not happen because of the small differences between facilities in rural England and the cities. Also, "rural England can be very beautiful and people can choose to live there rather than live in a crowded city." However, if you look at the GCSE results, these are not uniform. There are really good schools and really bad ones. Looking at the data from the North-East of England, he looked for a correlation (see image on right), and he found one. The key piece of data (on the bottom scale in the image) seemed to be the density of council housing. The higher the density, the poorer the results. Mitra started visiting some of the places with higher density of council houses. In the primary schools, the teachers would say that they would like to work in a safer place. This seemed to explained what was happening in the UK. The 'remoteness' factor in the UK was socio-economic remoteness. Looking at data from the rest of the world, Mitra found the same situation, although this 'remoteness' may have been slightly different. What can be done about this? This is a aocial issue that cannot be solved by teacher training or by paying teachers more. This led Sugata Mitra to wonder if there was a way of solving this problem by "taking the teacher out of the equation". 

This is where I am guessing that some of the audience at the conference started shuffling on their seats. 

Sugata Mitra's experiment to the above problem involved exploring the use of computers, which work in the same way, whether they are in remote India or in the UK. Sugata Mitra followed by saying: "Well, you might say, a computer can't replace a teacher, which is quite right, but I'm not going to say that we are about to try that. All that I'm saying is that a computer, whatever it can do for children, will do it to the same extent wherever it is."

Here Sugata clarifies his position by saying quite clearly that computers can't replace teachers and that it is not his intention to do so.

We kn ow that groups of children can learn to use the Internet on their own

In Delhi, Sugata Mitra used to teach groups of children how to write computer programmes. They were expensive courses and he wasn't very happy about this because there was a slum next to where he worked. in 1999. Mitra wondered how many good programmers he was missing and wondered how making this distinction in education about rich children and poor children was going to help India as a nation, or indeed, the world. He also wondered where he would get the teachers from: "Who's going to go and teach computers in the slum?"

This led to his first hole-in-the-wall experiment of giving access to computers to the children from the slum next to where he worked. It was running Windows, connected to the Internet, had a touchpad and it was all in English. The first children who discovered it asked what it was, and Mitra took the decision not to help them and said "I don't know". About 8 hours later, his colleagues reported that the children were surfing the Internet and teaching each other how to do so.  

Sugata Mitra repeated the process in a village 200 miles from Delhi that had a school but no teachers, which sounds strange, but this is the case in come parts of India. Mitra said here (in jest?) that "it's only years later that we realise that that might be a good thing." (much of the audience laughs and applauds). 

Here we have another controversial comment from the talk. Some of the Facebook critics thought it outrageous that he should say such a thing. You could argue that he said this for comic effect or that he actually believes that a bad teacher is worse than no teacher at all. Either way, I don't see why this comment should have provoked the response it has. I think some of the critics of the talk have taken this to mean that Sugata Mitra thinks it's a good idea to get rid of teachers in all schools, which is, I believe, a clear misunderstanding of what he actually said.  

After installing the computer in a hole in the wall in the school, Sugata Mitra went away. He returend after a couple of months to find the children playing games on the computer. When they saw him, they said "we need a faster processor and a better mouse." He was quite taken aback at this, and asked them how they learned all those words, and Mitra found himself "dragged out of computer science and into education" because of what they said (as a complaint) "You've given us a machine that works only in English, so we had to teach ourselves English in order to use it.

Sugata Mitra did a lot of work after that to measure what the children understood and they found they had a functional understanding of English, "sufficient for them to navigate the machine." When reflecting on the causes of this learning, Sugata Mitra came to the conclusion that "this kind of learning was happening because I wasn't there'"

Again, Mitra suggests that taking the teacher out of the picture may be a good thing. Whether you agree with his conclusion or not is up to you, but it does seem that evidence suggests the children learnt English on their own with just the computer. What could be argued (I would argue this here) is that the children would have probably learned more and probably better English with the guidance of a 'good teacher' during the same time period (but probably not with a 'bad teacher').

After realising "You can have learning happening if the teacher is not there", Sugata Mitra wondered if the opposite was true: "Can you stop learning if the teacher is there?"

Again, I think asking this last question was a logical step to take, given the findings. If nothing else, it needs to be explored in order to be dismissed.  

After this, Sugata Mitra received funding from the World Bank, who wanted to know if he could measure it properly. He then conducted research for the next 5 years, measuring it in different places in India, from January 1999. There followed the showing of a short video of children in India learning in this way. The results were almost identical throughout India (see graph on left). The information in the graph tell us that "groups of children, given access to the Internet, and left unsupervised, will, in a period of nine months, reach the...same level of competency in computing literacy as the average office secretary in the West.

For Sugata Mitra, this "raised a few questions about training...and the purpose of training." He wondered how this was possible, especially with such "completely replicable results." He then spoke about the difficulty in finding out exactly what the children were doing. For this reason, in the paper he subsequently wrote in 2005, he could only say "this is what it does" not "how does it do it".

We know that groups of children can learn most things on their own

Years passed and Mitra started to ask children to do things using the computer. For example, he would tell the children to find out about quadratic equations, and then leave them on their own. He did this recently with a group of 9 year olds and they were able to tell them about it after 25 minutes. He tested with different subjects and he found that "we have managed to create a world where children can learn most things by themselves." and Sugata Mitra thinks we "shouldn't feel depressed about that, we should feel very proud of it."

The focus here is on promoting discovery learning, and what children can learn themselves with minimal intervention from an adult. 

The next set of slides showed a selection of research findings, including an interesting paper on Improving English Pronunciation: An automated Instructional Approach (Sugata Mitra, James Tooley, Parimala Inamdar and Pauline Dixon, 2003 - PDF), which seems to indicate that children using the hole-in-the-wall computers and appropriate software can help themselves to improve their own pronunciation with minimal intervention. The children in this study were learning English from local teachers, but these teachers had a strong accent, to such an extent that when these children later went for jobs, the interviewers would say that they could not understand them. Sugata Mitra gave some 12-year-old children computers with speech to text software (Dragon) and asked them to read into the computer. At first, the children spoke and what the software produced was nonsense. He told them that he would leave the computer here for 2 months and set them the challenge that they had to make themselves understood. The children asked him "How?" and Sugata Mitra joked that by then he "had perfected his pedagogical technique" and so he said he had no idea.

I saw someone refer to this last joke on Facebook or Twitter, taking it at face value and missing the point that it was obviously said in jest.  

Two months later, when he went back into the slum, the first thing he saw was a little boy waiting outside the room where the computer was, and asked him in English "How are you". The boy responded "Fantastic", which surprised him entirely. With a learning objective / task, but no pedagogy, the children invented a way of doing it, downloading the Speaking Oxford Dictionary and used this in combination with the text to speech software. Sugata Mitra said this showed that "Learners, if they have no choice, will invent pedagogy."

In the UK, Sugata Mitra conducted an experiment to explore if there was something that children could not learn by themselves. He decided to conduct an experiment to test for the limits to where this method can go. The research question was "Can Tamil speaking children in a South Indian village learn the biotechnology of how the DNA molecule reproduces, in English, from a street-side computer on their own?" He expected the children to fail, but when he came back after a couple of months since setting them the challenge, they surprised him with the amount that they had learned. The children had gone from knowing nothing to understanding 30% of what they he asked them to know. 

Sugata Mitra then wondered how the children could improve their knowledge to 50%. And asked one of the NGO volunteers to "use the method of the grandmother" to stand behind the children and ask questions as well as using admiration. The results after two more months, went up to 50%.

Here, what Sugata Mitra shares with the audience is vague. We are not aware of how the children were tested and there are so many other factors that could be involved, it sounds almost like we are in fairy tale territory. 

Sugata Mitra's response to this was "There's something about learning that we have missed. This is not learning as we have understood it." but he didn't know what was happening, so he published the results in the British Journal of Educational Technology (2010)  and this "attracted an enormous amount of comments from educators, ranging all the way from 'yes, you've hit on something really interesting' to 'this is complete rubbish - you must have cooked those results up.'"

As a result, on his return to England and after talking to directors of schools there, they convinced them to try the hole-in-the-wall in England. He said that was impossible - the children will freeze! He decided to try it by turning it inside out, turning it inside out, using one children per group of 1-4 children. The children started clustering and talking to each other. Giving the children an absurd problem (e.g. "why is it that almost all men can grow a moustache but most women cannot?"). Within 30-40 minutes, he found the children had started to explore cell evolution. He started to make up questions like that and called this a 'Self Organising Learning Environment' (SOLE).

Without a background in education, and looking at this "through the lens of physics", what he saw was a self-organising system: at the edge of chaos, order appears out of disorder. He asked himself whether this was happening inside the hole-in-the-wall. 

After sharing another video of kids in the UK working in SOLEs, he explained that the same things would happen all around the world. 

We know that teachers can be 'beamed' to other places using the Internet

Returning to the idea of needing a grandmother, Mitra said he sent out an appeal in the Guardian newspaper asking for British grandmothers with broadband and webcams to give him one hour of their time a week for free. He now has 600 signed up - they are not just grandmothers, but they form what is called 'the granny cloud' and they are "beamed into schools where good teachers cannot go".

This is similar to what we are doing in Uruguay, only we use paid teachers and video-conferencing technology, whereas Sugata Mitra uses retired volunteers (mainly non-teachers?) and Skype. This was familiar to me beforehand and it has always sounded like an effective way of using technology (Skype in this case) to match peole with time on their hands who would like to do something beneficial to others (the grannies) with children who do not have access to teachers.   

These volunteers "talk to the children" and because of this, they learn English.

This sounds like the language exchange classes that are popular in Spain (and I imagine in other countries all over the world), where two people with different languages meet to talk to each other, only the "grannies" are not doing this to learn the children's language. People usually do it when they cannot afford a teacher, or to supplement being in a language class with more conversation practice. I did this my first year in Spain and it works to a certain extent, although ultimately trying to get a non-teacher to explain grammar to you, for example, is often frustrating. 

Sugata Mitra then showed a video of the granny cloud, including footage of one of the grannies chanting (drilling) in English from a storybook, with children in a class repeating the sentences she was chanting. 

I now understand some of the criticism, and although (I believe) the granny cloud is run at no cost, it would surely be more effective to employ trained language teachers to teach the children English in this way (if grant money could be found to do so). If this is not possible, then surely there is a danger is that these grannies are worse than the 'bad teachers' that Sugata Mitra mentioned earlier in the talk, and they may do more harm than good? From what I can tell, it does seem that with the granny cloud he has launched an online language school full of untrained amateur non-teachers, and I can't see this to be an effective line to follow, unless it is the only way to provide learning assistance to these Indian children (because of cost reasons), although this seems unlikely. I also understand the frustration expressed by some of the Facebook critics at the lack of Q&A session to follow this plenary, as there are so many questions that spring to mind - I have asked IATEFL whether an online Q&A session (i.e. a webinar) could be organised as a follow-up to this, and so, hopefully that will take place in the near future. 

Sugata Mitra then followed "a few things we know" with "a few things we don't know" that we need to find out:

We don't know if children can learn to read by themselves

Sugata Mitra is doing some experiments in India at the moment to find this out, and he shared a video of two little girls trying to teach each other the meaning of the English word 'sheep'. In Uruguay, Sugata Mitra did a study and measured reading comprehension there, where the children all have laptops. He found that reading comprehension was better than in the UK at equivalent ages. 

He has noticed that collectively, children can read at higher levels than they can individually and he is trying to see that if he makes them do this time and time again, whether thir individual reading levels increase. 

We don't know if children can learn to search accurately by themselves

This remains to be seen.

What needs to be done:
  • Curriculum around the world needs to be revised to include the Internet
  • Pedagogy needs to include the Internet
No argument with this - it should be done. 
  • Examinations need to focus on the Internet and collaboration for problem solving and decision making
Sugata Mitra then criticises testing of students, showing a picture of learners sitting at desks in rows and individually completing exams. "Why is this considered the best way to end schooling?", he asked. Sugata Mitra believes that this is the one change that will change everything else - teaching will change, etc. 

Unfortunately, the school system as it stands today, is preparing children for a work culture that no longer exists, and this needs to change. 

  • Obsolescence of ideas, skills, methods and knowledge needs to be factored into learning methods, Curricula and Examinations
Agree with the above too. 
  • When teachers are friends, Curriculum, pedagogy and Examinations can be rolled into one

Sugata Mitra is now involved in building schools in the cloud, which are "really like cyber-cafes for children". They have computers with big screens, glass walls, a life-size screen on which a mediator can be Skyped in if required.  And a supervisor "who cannot teach anything because he cannot know anything" 

With this, Sugata Mitra showed one final video (a clip from his 2013 TED talk) of his idea of "the school in the cloud", with a voiceover:

"What is the future of learning? could it be that we don't need to go to school at all? Could it be that at the point in time when you need to know something you can find out in 2 minutes?

In theory, I like the idea of promoting discovery learning and agree that schools need to change, especially with regard to testing / exams. However, I strongly disagree that the future of school needs to remove teachers from the equation. I think this is a recipe for disaster and a step backwards. Before watching this plenary, I thought he believed in using the granny cloud only where there was no possibility of obtaining teachers, but I can see now, with the idea of the school in the cloud, that he seems to believe that all children would be better off without a teacher. Is this so? It is difficult to tell at this point in the plenary.

I would like to know more about what is happening in the north-east in the schools in the cloud he has set up here. If this is just part of the school curriculum, as it seems to be, because there is an interview with a teacher who says she has been redefining her role as a teacher and "thinking more carefully about her lessons", then this is probably a good thing, and I like the sight of the children in the video coming together and exploring how to learn together without much interference from a teacher - but only if this is part of what they do. 

To finish, Sugata Mitra shared some of his images of schools in the cloud and said "those faces say it about all, really" 

So, after watching and listening very carefully to Sugata Mitra's IATEFL plenary, I think I can better understand now why there was such a negative reaction, and I found myself becoming more disturbed as the talk went on. However, I defend the decision to invite him as a plenary speaker, and think that much of what he had to say in the plenary above was thought-provoking and worthwhile. Some of it, though, seems to be dubious and I can understand why some people found it insulting to the language teaching profession. I hope that IATEFL manages to persuade him and find time to organise a follow-up online Q&A session, where he can answer some of the questions that spring to mind when watching the plenary. 

Further reading

Blog posts prompted by SM's plenary at IATEFL 2014

Follow-up Discussions
Updated 20/4/2014 to include more references

General - Sugata Mitra
The full plenary session can be viewed below:


  1. Anonymous5:39 am

    Excellent, measured, well-balanced summary. Graham.

    As someone who was (I have to admit) captivated by early accounts of the hole-in-the-wall experiment, for what it seemed to suggest about the potential of self-directed learning (irrespective of whether it is mediated by the internet or by books or by 'grannies') I am now increasingly sceptical, for many of the reasons you outline, not least his somewhat cavalier dismissal of the value of teachers. You comment that 'he seems to believe that all children would be better off without a teacher. Is this so?' If you watch his interview with Nik Peachey (here: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-05/interview-sugata-mitra ), the answer can only be a fairly unqualified 'yes'. Like doctors or busdrivers (?) and other sundry occupations, teachers are effectively obsolete in his book, and it would behoove them to re-train (not as doctors or busdrivers, obviously).

    It seems to me that one of Mitra's problems is that he doesn't come from an education background, and therefore he's sort of making it up as he goes along. He makes no reference to a century or more of experimentation with experiential and discovery learning, and seems to be suggesting that it is only with the advent of the internet has this become a viable alternative to classrooms. He makes a fleeting reference to Piaget, but not to Vygotsky nor to the idea that learning is mediated social activity - a view which might both support his approach but also might challenge it (on the grounds that he places less importance on mediation than on autonomy).

    Oddly, too, for a scientist, his account of emergence and of chaos theory is simplistic to the point of being nonsense (a stagnant pond, a flash of lightning, and - give or take a million years - some frogs crawl out!).

    En fin, I'm not so sure it WAS a good idea to invite him to IATEFL if he wasn't prepared (as other plenary speakers are expected to) to answer his critics. Personally, I would rather have had a plenary about the Ceibal scheme, which seems to be more grounded, has a longer track record, and is directed at language learning specifically. Your turn next year, Graham? ;-

  2. Thanks for coming here and sharing this, Scott. I am disappointed by Sugata Mitra's new direction and belief that teachers are not necessary, and think he is pursuing a line that will inevitably lead to failure. I think you are right to say that one problem is a lack of consideration of many ideas that are now taken for granted in Education, especially language education, and I wonder why he hasn't (seemingly) decided to take advice from those who are well-versed in this before launching this new project. I get the feeling that he is (unwisely) focusing only on the children and has maybe decided to ignore what has been explored and studied before by educationalists. As for Ceibal and a plenary, I'm flattered you think so, but not next year. We will be expanding to reach the whole of the country (or as much of it as we can) this time next year: once that happens and we have had a chance for things to settle down, we'll have a much better idea of how effective the programme really is. One thing is clear, the teacher is most definitely a major part of it all!

  3. Thanks Graham, this is a really good summary.
    One thing I wanted to ask you about, in particular, was that the initial focus of his work in this field (Mitra's I mean) seemed to be related to the way that kids given communal access to the internet would find a way to learn how to access it, and use it as a resource, but to do so collaboratively. And to me the really fascinating part of this was that collaboration. He didn;t really emphasise it in his plenary though he did mention it at one point. But then in Uruguay - the one-laptop-per-child thing, he also mentioned, but that would appear to be going back to the "set children individual tasks and let them solve them" approach (just with new technology). I guess what I'm trying to ask here, is that what seems to be core to the apparent effectiveness of the hole in the wall idea is the collaboration - but giving everybody a laptop seems to work against this (possible) benefit. I like the idea of one laptop per child too, but I was wondering what you feel having seen it from up close?

  4. Thanks Graham for this summary. I've shared it on Facebook and think it's a very good attempt at seeing both sides of the story - rooted in the talk Mitra gave himself and your own experience. I'd like to address your first point about when the audience started shuffling in their seats; when he suggested taking the teacher out of the equation.

    Now, many people have since said that he is not about abolishing teachers and he is being misrepresented. Fair enough. Supporters also say that he is trying to help and innovating. I'll even grant that. But let's come back to that first premise when he said: "We know it's difficult to get good teachers in remote places".

    I think we can assume here we mean rural places, and poor places. I should say that I have worked in some remote places in my career (southern Mexico and Guatemala) and they were pretty poor and rural. I think we can also assume that in these remote places he is suggesting the problem can be solved without teachers. This strikes me as a very provocative statement. I found myself immediately on the following train of thought: "Does this mean that the good teachers get to go back and teach the more affluent urban citizens and the poor get the computers? But if the poor remote people are getting a better deal because schools and teachers are obsolete and children learn better on their own then why isn't this approach also being taken up big time by the wealthy?" That's when I shifted uncomfortably.

    The idea that unpaid volunteers could be beamed in (the grannies) with what seemed to be very little training... well I can totally understand why people at an IATEFL conference would feel awkward at that. We as a profession have been struggling against the native-speaker backpackers for more than forty years. Now we need to deal with grannies too.

    Finally, and to return to the remote places argument. What if this thinking were extended to other professions? e.g. We know it's difficult to get good doctors in remote places. We know it's difficult to get good cops in remote places. We know it's difficult to get good services in remote places. If we look to replacing these human services with tech fixes that enable us to keep the good teachers, doctors, cops etc in the wealthier cities then what are we doing to our citizens in remote places?

    I suppose that's when I really shifted uncomfortably in my chair.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Mr. Clandfield, and sorry your name didn't come out when you posted. I agree with you wholeheartedly about the unpaid 'grannies' taking over from teachers. The more I think about what's happening with the SOLEs now expanding to places where there is no shortage of teachers, the more it worries me. I can see the 'evidence' of these experiments being used in the (not so far) future as reason for cutting teachers in schools by half and clustering students into SOLEs for half (or more) of the school day. I have no problem with promoting discovery learning and the SOLE idea seems to be interesting (if nothing particularly new), but surely it would be more valuable if facilitated by a teacher if (as in the NE of England) teachers are available?

  5. Yes, good point, Andy. The OLPC project in Uruguay means that in theory all kids each now have a laptop, but in practice, you find that in most classes, some are broken, have been lost, sold or stolen. Replacements are sent to the schools, but (as you can imagine) not immediately. This means that the reality of the situation is that kids do have to share their laptops and work collaboratively in Uruguayan schools, which I think is a good thing, as you suggest. The only downside to this is the benefits of the kids having a laptop that they own and can use outside of school is lost for some of these children.

  6. Mitra certainly has some controversial views. I applaud his efforts to bring education to rural areas and the many places where teachers are scarce. His work is leading us towards the changes that are necessary to involve the students more in their education. The adult centered educational system we have at the moment does nothing to involve students receiving practical, hands on learning in areas of their interest. It reminds me of the Harry Potter scene where the students are told that a theoretical approach to magic is all they need. If a student is interested in learning how to build they should be focused on the components necessary to build objects. Adhering to a rigid curriculum simply reinforces the "adults know best" attitude.

    1. Bill, I was just recently looking at your interesting SOLE blog (http://coronationsole.blogspot.com/). I have admired much of the work Mr. Mitra has done in the past and think the SOLE idea is a good one when teachers are scarce, but my worry id the favouring of non-teachers over teachers in areas where teachers are easy to come by. This was suggested by Sugata Mitra on Saturday, and I don't agree that it is a good idea.

  7. Graham,

    Thank you for this.

    I would like to add that Mitra's sense of humour could come across to some as being a bit flippant. I think this might partly explain the rather emotional reaction of some people to his plenary.

    I also agree that Mitra should have been required to do a Q and A session or should not have been invited at all.

    1. Yes, Tom. I appreciated the humour at the beginning of Saturday's talk, but then when it struck me that he was deadly serious about 'taking the teacher out of the equation' it seemed to me in poor taste. I definitely felt that he is not 100% sure of this, and there were times when this was displayed - perhaps we can persuade IATEFL to organise an online Q&A soon - I have suggested it, but I am not sure that the man wants anything else to do with IATEFL after the uproar he has caused. He seems to be upset at the reaction from what I have read on his Facebook page.

  8. Hey Graham,
    Sorry I saw the Uruguay post but missed this somehow. I shared on Twitter. I appreciate you taking the time to actually highlight areas of concern and also that you offered the following solutions I wholeheartedly agree about.

    "What needs to be done:
    Curriculum around the world needs to be revised to include the Internet
    Pedagogy needs to include the Internet
    Examinations need to focus on the Internet and collaboration for problem solving and decision making"

    In addition, I feel we need to train teachers. My concern is that we keep teaching and creating policy from our experiences of living through hefty technology development. I write about this in my upcoming book, The 30 Goals Challenge. Our lives transformed enormously with technology. I imagine my grandparents' lives- their rituals, traditions, and cultures at each stage and the impact various developments had on them. They got to live through the atomic bomb, invention of the TV (one of the 1st life altering technologies), computers in homes to their pockets, cell phones, iPads, etc. As technology evolves it continues to be in more people's hands and homes. These completely transitioned our lives and depending on if we had positive or negative experiences it is important we reflect on that impact and how it influences our teaching and education policy. I feel education policy already that has banned and left out digital literacy and citizenship has already made it to where millions of people learn without teachers everyday. We wouldn't see millions on social networks, Busuu, gaming, using Rosetta stone, etc. if this weren't true.

    Our students have a different experience. They don't know what life is apart from a digital society. Eventually, as they get older this will be more and more true. The fact is many more, millions have access than ever before and soon the technology will be to where more will have access. This has impacted our language, lives, traditions, culture, and literacy. We need to create policy with this in mind. We need to study what our students our doing already online. We need to study why 50 million are on social networks like Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, VK and using ephemeral apps like Snapchat. Digital literacy and citizenship should be based on our students' experiences and how technology has impacted their lives.

    Not having most schools with a digital curriculum for such a long time has made it to where experiments like Sugata will continue to be supported. What else are learners supposed to do if schools don't allow technology? What else are learners supposed to do if teachers can't teach with technology or never trained how to teach with technology? What else do we expect to happen when we have a generation of learners whose experience is that their teachers were never part of their digital journey, communication, and learning? I feel that is the root of what we really have to look at and figure out how we can correct that error of schools leaving teachers out of the equation for so long when it comes to living our digital lives.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Shelly, and yes, I agree with most of what you say. There are lots of changes that need to be made to curricula around the world, and the changes that the information revolution have made to the daily lives of learners need to be reflected in what happens in schools for the learning there to be relevant. I also believe strongly that the way forward is to support and to train teachers to do this, because I believe in teachers and the role they play in society. I think sidelining them, replacing some of them with untrained amateurs (Sugata Mitra's grannies, for example), would be a mistake. We need to build on what we have learned about education so far and adapt the school system to embrace the challenges of the 21st century. Adapt and build on what we have learned. Not throw it out.

  9. Graham, you deliver a very sober assessment. Mitra has a similarly sober demeanour, but isn't it the case that what he has fed is a less than sober mythology? You draw the sober conclusion that pedagogy needs to include the internet, but hasn't the hole in the wall mythology been unsoberly seen as crying out for a pedagogy that revolves entirely around digital tech? There is a myth, is there not, that learning happens, not when kids are moved by life offline, but when they go online? The tech is the game changer, supposedly. Kids were always teaching themselves how to do things: how to make go-karts, kites, how to kill birds, how to stick pigs, and how to turn a playground into a pecking order, but it is only when children come into magical contact with digital technology that real learning happens.

    Although the pedagogic anarchism of a child-driven education can sound dangerously radical, the more dominant theme that it is the tech that changes the game, not the children (and certainly not the adults) is actually a very conservative repetition of a very questionable techno-centric imaginary. Should we really pin our hopes on the tech, or on something else?

    1. Thanks for commenting, TH. I don't think we should pin out hopes on tech, but neither should we ignore it in schools. If the Internet is, as you say, such a game-changer, it is sensible that we should recognise this and adapt to what it means to 'know' and to 'learn' in this brave new world. With information at our fingertips, knowing how to access this is now just as important I think as 'just knowing stuff' - we also need to help children evaluate information (i.e. there's a need for digital literacy). I don't think that we should undervalue the offline learning you mention either - there is a great need to encourage that too. The trick, I think is probably finding a balance between the two.

  10. Thank you for this neat critique of Sugata Mitra's arguments, Hugh. I'm a bit late to the game, but you can find my commentary at http://sciencebin.wordpress.com/article/edtech-and-minimally-invasive-education-the-sole-way-forward/

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