Home' Teacher : November 2009 Contents AT THE CHALKFACE 57
download games and music, and read the
news. Remember, these children had no for-
mal education. Mitra went on to replicate
this experiment in many other impoverished
areas of India.
Everywhere he has installed the hole-in-
the-wall computers, the results have been
the same: illiterate children teaching them-
selves highly technical skills in order to
access the wide range of knowledge oppor-
tunities accessible via the internet.
There are many interesting points to
note about this amazing experiment. Mitra
explains many of them in a talk he gave to
an international community at TED, a small
nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading
that started out in 1984 after a conference
for people from the areas of technology,
entertainment and design -- hence TED.
Interestingly, so far it's only children who
have shown this keen interest in technology.
Adults in these communities have been keen
for children to develop technology skills
but they've been reluctant themselves to try
manipulating a cursor or a mouse.
Inspired by Mitra's hole-in-the-wall tech-
nology learning experiment, Vikas Swarup
wrote Q & A because, as he explained to
Express India journalist Shubhajit Roy,
'I realised that there's an innate ability in
everyone to do something extraordinary,
provided they are given an opportunity.
How else do you explain children with no
education at all being able to learn to use the
internet? This shows knowledge is not just
the preserve of the elite.'
Mitra's hole-in-the-wall experiment has
significant ramifications for every teacher.
Mitra uses the term 'minimally invasive
education' to describe the learning events
that he has made possible. There's no doubt
that many students in our schools today are
performing below expectations. Too often,
many well-intentioned programs designed
to redress literacy or numeracy, or any
other area of identified u nderperformance,
are completely controlled by teachers. We
teachers believe it's our role to organise,
monitor, control, assess and be responsi-
ble for the learning of each one of our stu-
dents. The result of such efforts, typically,
is 'highly invasive education.'
One of the reasons so many of our highly
organised efforts to orchestrate learning are
ineffective could be that they fail to provide
the appropriate learning environment for
each child. Most of us still hold the belief
that learning in groups of approximately 25,
give or take a few, is the best way to organise
learning, and that students need a teacher
with them at all times. This is obviously a
nonsense that needs to be challenged.
If nothing else, Mitra's hole-in-the-wall
experiment should prompt us to question
and reassess our educational assumptions.
If illiterate children, given the appropriate
learning environment, can teach themselves
computer skills and learn a highly complex
foreign language on their own, what might
be possible in your classroom if you gave
your students more freedom to learn and
the right to take more control of their own
Brian Brenn an is a Se nior Education
Officer at the Sandhurst Catholic
Education Office and a regular contribu -
tor to Teacher. Email bbrenn an@ceosand.
Roy, S. (2009). 'Golden' diplomat
basks in Slumdog glory. Express India .
Available at ww w.expressindia.com/
latest- ne ws/golden -diplomat-basks-
in-slumdog-glory/410053 Retrieved 6
To find out more about the hole-in-the-
wall experiment, visit ww w.hole -in -the-
A video of the TED presentation, includ-
ing footage, c an be found at w ww.ted.
com/talks/lang/eng/sugata_ mitra_ shows_
how_kids_ teach_ the mselves.html
Photo by Billy Alexander courtesy of
If illiterate children, given
the appropriate learning
environment, can teach
skills and learn a highly
complex foreign language
on their own, what might
be possible in your
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