Monday, September 27, 2010

Learning from a hole in a wall

I think Sugata Mitra's TED Talk in it's entirety is worth the link. Mitra has been experimenting with kids and computers and is now proposing that even without a trained teacher, kids with a computer and broadband Internet access can organize themselves and learn what they need to learn.

Now, wait. If what he has observed is true, then S'porean kids should be freakin' geniuses! Many of them are carrying around their own personal Internet devices in their pockets. Those who don't still have lots of free (or cheap) access to the 'net almost any time they want. Plus they have the added advantage of having access to us, trained teacher professionals who are ready, willing and able to mould the future of our nation. But, sad to say, to call the majority of our kids 'geniuses' is somewhat of an exaggeration. And I'm not trying to be modest here.

Worse still, why is it that when we come across students who are struggling with one subject or another, our first line of attack is to cut him or her off from this very key learning tool in our wired age? In some countries, Internet access is a human right, so this approach could in some circles be considered an atrocity!

In our case, Internet access is a major advantage that we have yet to exploit properly. What we haven't come to realise yet is that access to fast information at our fingertips will only work to help us become smarter people if certain fundamental premises are already in motion. According to Mitra's findings, kids are self-organizing and they learn according to what they as a group are interested in learning. Also, kids learn collaboratively and cooperatively. Information is shared among kids freely, thus when one makes a discovery or arrives at an understanding of a concept or whatever, very quickly this new knowledge spreads to the rest of the group. Result: smarter, more motivated kids who understand what they are learning and can recall their learning much better than our exam-smart text-bookish S'pore students who 'slog their guts out' and have had no fun with their learning process whatsoever.

Unfortunately for us, the ones standing in the way of our kids actually learning and enjoying their learning is... us. Teachers. We don't let them self-organize. We organize EVERYTHING for them; their materials, their time, their tests, their co-curricula activities; inside school, outside school we manage them and continue treating them like unweaned breast-fed babies regardless of their physical age. I wonder if that's why we feel so sucked dry sometimes?

But the worst thing is that because of what we are doing, because of our lack of trust in our kids, we instil in them the idea that they can't trust anyone either. Not their friends, not their classmates, because everyone is competing for a limited number of university places. Competition is the biggest killer of collaborative and cooperative learning, and without this fundamental pillar of learning our job teaching individual selfish information hoarders can actually be quite a futile one, a joyless one and a thankless one.

This sort of competition-is-good (or at least inevitable) attitude goes right up to MP level, so making the necessary changes to the way we teach to maximize our latest tech assets will be 1) difficult, and 2) will have to start on a very small-scale, perhaps within one's personal sphere of influence, no more.

Who's with me?


masterofboots said...

i believe this is the guy who came up with the mind-boggling TPCK framework. ugh

Xmac said...

Emphasis on PCK! Eh, I Googled. You may have Mitra confused with Mishra.