Friday, 24 February 2012

Empowering children - Professor Sugata Mitra and the future of Learning

"...groups of children can teach themselves almost anything"

I came across this sentence, and this video, a couple of weeks ago. And once again I was impressed by what children can do together, self-instructing themselves with no need of a teacher.
I can't wait to read Sugata Mitra's new book Beyond the Hole in the Wall: Discover the Power of Self-Organized Learning.
Meantime, I'm as usual questioning my role as a teacher.

This man puzzles me.
I'm amazed at what he's doing. I think he's one of those people who really made the difference. And I'd like to make the difference as well in my everyday life (at almost 40, I don't want to change the world anymore, but I still want to do my part to improve it). But how can I, if my pupils would be better off without me?

"My work with self organised learning by children shows that groups of children can learn to use computers and the Internet to answer almost any question. This happens everywhere and is independent of what language they speak, where they live and how rich or poor they are. All they need is free access and the liberty to work in unsupervised groups."

It is the "unsupervised" part that scares me. Now, appearently it's official: they would be happier and more productive without me. Ok, I'm not taking it personally - let's say without us. Not much better anyway, since it means without us teachers.

But let's have a look at Sugata Mitra's inspiring TED talk of 2010:

I love this talk, almost every sentence he says should be quoted. And thinking about it, I can see there's hope for teachers: we're not bound to become an old-fashioned, useless item after all.
First of all, I was impressed by the fact there are no teachers where they are needed most - which leads in time to a worsening of the situation, a greater need of teachers, and a greater opposition of teachers to go there. There's appearently no way out. True, computers can help - of course, better no teacher than a teacher who doesn't want to be where he is. But maybe we can start by learning to love our job again?
Which is no mission, but profession: and since we are professionals, it's our duty to perform well in our job. This doesn't mean we have to leave everything behind and go to some far away place where we think we are needed (that's a religious mission, so not our field), but to understand what's needed of us where we are.
We have to say farewell to the comfortable safe routine of traditional classroom teaching and be more daring: exploit the web, computer, collaboration opportunities. Once again, we have to learn how to be new teachers.
And just like children, we'll have to self-instruct ourselves. Sugata Mitra shows us the other side of the coin, but I believe teachers can self-instruct themselves. Why not? We can self-teach. We are Lifelong Learning Teachers, aren't we?

Among the many things I'm learning out of Professor Mitra's experiments, there's the importance of empowering children. I'm not supposed to fill them up, like empty bottles: learning is their process, and they'll learn only if they want to.

Because in the end, "children will learn to do what they want to learn to do."


  1. Great words, great ideas, great man - and something more, great ACTIONS. Someone who didn't just write high flown academic studies, but actually DID something. What he writes and says comes from experiments, so it's connected to reality. I agree with you, as teachers we have to question ourselves and our role. But let's do it in a positive way, in terms of improvement.
    Thank you Professor Sugata Mitra!

  2. I agree with you.
    I just love what this man is doing!