In the late 1990s, Sugata Mitra initiated a series of ‘experiments’ on children to assess their ability to self educate. He placed a computer in a wall of a slum in New Dehli, turned the computer on and placed a video camera close by to watch what happened. He was astonished that children came and taught themselves, and others, how to work it and within days were surfing the web, downloading music and playing with programmes like Microsoft Paint. Because of this he added many more computers in the streets and the result was the same – every time children of all ages arrived and taught themselves, and other children, anything that a teacher might have wanted to teach about the computer! (For more information about Sugata Mitra’s research, see the TED Talk Kids can teach themselves, for which he won a TED prize!)
He concluded that children innately have curiosity, playfulness and sociability, all essential items for self-education!
This drew the children to turn the computer on, to play with the controls and to find out more and more.
As the children ‘played’ with the programmes they became more and more skilled until they went straight into Microsoft Paint, for instance, to ‘play’ every day. As they played they created more curiosity and the cycle continued. Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”
As individual children played and learnt, they passed the learning on to others. Their learning became everybody’s learning because they excited each other and the learning spread.
So why is this important for schools? Well, my question is ‘Why don’t school lessons spread like ‘wildfire’ like these ones did? Schools need to allow children to self educate as much as possible, because then they will be excited to learn at their own pace. Here are some ideas….
· Children are seldom given the opportunites at school to follow their own chosen interest – they are told what they are going to learn about and then told all the teacher wants them to know about the topic.
· At school children are usually expected to perform tasks in only one way or use only one method for calculating Maths problems. The excitement of puzzling out new ways is very seldom encouraged. At most schools children are divided into classes by age and often aren’t even allowed to play with children of other ages at break times. Opportunities for multi age learning creates many more opportunities for leaning and teaching, and when younger children teach older children in particular, the excitement of teaching and learning is so much greater. Much of what happens at schools today revolves around evaluating children and their work. This creates an emphasis on the product and pleasing the teacher, rather than on the investigating and excitement of the learning.
As parents you can encourage self-education by asking the right questions in your homes. Give your children opportunities to find the answer themselves if possible rather than just telling them an answer. This process is longer but much more sustainable and once children realise they can teach themselves and catch the excitement of learning, that will be forever!