I remember around 2000 when I first read about the “hole in the wall” experiments in India. These were experiments with unprivileged children, usually from slums or small villages, who were given a possibility and access to a computer and the Internet. What made a real difference with these experiments was that there was no instruction planned nor supervision by adults or experts.
What happened next was that children, usually from 8 to 13-years-old, would gather around these “holes in the wall” and start exploring the computer and the Internet. During the first experiment, Dr. Mitra who ran this research, explained that within the 8 min from installing the computer, a 13-year-old boy who first discovered the “hole”, was surfing on the Web.
By the end of that night, he had called 70 of his friends who were all learning from one another on how to surf the Web for the first time in their lives. This was “the Shivpuri experiment”. In another experiment (Madantusi experiment) in a small village, where Dr. Mirta had installed a “hole in the wall” computer, when he came back after 3 months, the kids asked him for a better mouse and a faster processor. This was rather unexpected, as the village was so poor and remote that they did not even have an English teacher. However, by familiarising themselves with the computer and Internet, the research team evaluated that the group of kids had acquired an average vocabulary of 400 English words, that they spoke in an American accent learned from the games and other material that was pre-installed on the computer.
Dr. Sugata Mitra ran 23 variations of these experiments all over India to find the same thing: children would self-organise themselves around a computer to teach one another how to browse the Internet, explore games that were installed on these computers, teach themselves new languages and even in one of the experiments, teach themselves biotechnology.
Sugata Mitra’s message for a hall full of about 400 European teachers was “if you let them and if they want to” kids can learn anything. The key is in arranging that kind of an environment. Computers, for example, should be given to groups of kids, not for individuals, as learning mostly takes place through the communication in the group. Computers should also be placed in public areas, as kids would right from the beginning get suspicious if they had to learn in a school environment. Also, Sugata Mitra’s team had observed that kids older than 13 would act differently in a self-organised learning situation; they would ask who was the teachers and what was the schedule, etc., as they already were so used to being instructed.
Dr. Mitra received an awesome ovation from eTwinning teachers, who so well knew what he was talking about, but who too often would forget his message. I’m glad to share this audio recording from the keynote speech given by Sugata Mitra in an eTwinning event in Bucharest, Romania, on March 14. Enjoy it!
I might also get the slides later, will put the link in here too.
Wikipedia entry about Dr. Mitra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugata_Mitra