Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
In building his tiny "Hole in the Wall," Sugata Mitra tears down major structures of traditional educational thinking while using his prize-winning TEDTalk to lay the foundation for major advancements in student-centered learning.
The most important conclusion from Mitra's work is not about the technology -- more about that shortly -- but in firmly establishing that poor children can learn and develop deeper learning competencies of creative thinking, problem solving, and self-reflection and learning -- just like their more affluent peers.
Almost every survey shows an expectations gap between what students believe they can accomplish versus what the educators and communities believe is possible. The students bet high; the adults assume lower and that is where the level of learning ends up. For Mitra, there were no assumptions that were communicated to the students. He provided the computers as the access to learning, stepped back, and watched the children grow.
Equally significant is Mitra demonstrating the power of self-learning by having students engaged in what interests them. No lectures; no endless series of dry work sheets. These children demonstrate what all adults recognize from their work and hobbies; we learn best by doing. A simple hole in the wall demonstrated the effectiveness of what is conventionally termed project-based learning, problem solving or theme approaches -- all presenting students learning opportunities through engagement instead of endurance.
The more challenging lesson from the Hole in the Wall is that this learning would most likely not have occurred without technology. These children had successfully been ignored for centuries; why any difference for this generation? Besides providing access and the capacity to engage individual learning styles, the technology also provided an interesting style of engagement. Students wanted to use the computer; as they mastered this, they began broadening their search for knowledge. Does anyone believe the same learning results as well as enthusiasm would have occurred had Mitra had simply positioned himself in the Hole in the Wall and answered any questions of passing kids?
Watching these children, many of whom were from the most educationally and economically deprived, creates parallels to the introduction of wireless telephony to less developed nations. Not having a longstanding institution of landlines, these regions vaulted immediately to the rapidly emerging technology and avoided trying to resolve tensions between long established infrastructure and the newly emerging technologies. Mitra references this in describing the colonial system of education, but the Hole in the Wall was serving children who were not going to receive any formal education, regardless of how delivered. So here applying the technology did not face the usual barriers of "but we do it this way."
These experiences from some of the poorest regions of the world offer major lessons for the most developed educational systems. All children -- given the opportunity -- can learn. All children can learn by doing and have the capacity to be self-directed learners. All children can benefit and use rapidly emerging technology to advance their learning outcomes.
Mitra's TED presentation demonstrates the exponentially growing power of educational technology. A small Hole in the Wall in remote India opens large windows for learners and educators across the world.
Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.
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