I’m a huge admirer of the work of Sugata Mitra, as you will know if you read this blog. It was great fun today to talk to a class in Hong Kong… and Sugata himself! As an e-mediator with the SOLE and SOME project, I was asked to do a session with this group as part of a demonstration for teachers there to see the possibilities of such global interactions.
The class of extremely well behaved, somewhat formal 12 year olds, sat quietly and watched as small groups came up to the camera to talk to me. They introduced themselves politely one at a time and answered my questions about their school subjects, their hobbies and their interests. They respectfully asked a few questions and, with some encouragement, sang their school song. These students are clearly from well-to-do homes, as many have travelled extensively and some have even been to Australia. When I asked what they thought the similarities and differences between our countries might be, they thoughtfully expressed their ideas. They all speak Mandarin and Cantonese and most of them spoke very good English. Although I had a problem with screen sharing (I hadn’t practiced with the latest version of Skype), it was easy to engage them in conversation for about an hour. They were interested to hear that at my school, we use Skype for interactions of this sort as part of class learning.
No sooner had the conversation ended, then I had a call from one of the SOLEs in Hyderabad. There was lots of activity and noise in the room as kids came and went. The usual core group of girls stayed at the computer, chattering cheerfully. I have been away for a while and they seemed excited to see me, waving, making faces and all talking at once, mostly in Hindi! Much of the conversation (if you can call words and short phrases a conversation!) was typed, as the background hubbub made it hard to hear and anyway we use text to support the communication and help overcome accent and language barriers. It was Thaseen’s birthday and she was wearing a glitering red and silver dress and distributing chocolates to her friends. I asked about their birthday traditions and they told me she was having a party for friends and relatives and there would be cake but not gifts. We sang happy birthday, they clapped for themselves and laughed at me pretending to eat the proffered chocolate, mimicking the expressions on my face. I showed them how to fold the wrapper into a boat and while this modeling and copying was going on, more kids appeared and told me their names, talked over each other and redirected the camera to themselves.
I caught up with Rodger, another Australian e-mediator for a few minutes afterwards…
[7:12:01 PM] Edna: hi rodger
[7:12:17 PM] Edna: did you talk to HK too?
[7:34:29 PM] Rodger M: yes… how was it?
[8:06:45 PM] Edna: very different than the indians!
[8:07:02 PM] Rodger M: yes… much better english …
[8:07:15 PM] Rodger M: and much better communication quality
[8:07:27 PM] Rodger M: but more reserved and formal
[8:07:41 PM] Edna: and better off, well travelled… quite a few had been to Aus
[8:07:52 PM] Rodger M: yes .. quite different
[8:08:02 PM] Edna: then i had a bunch of noisy jiya kids with poor english… more fun!
[8:08:15 PM] Rodger M: yes 😀
[8:08:20 PM] Edna: lots of laughing
[8:08:47 PM] Rodger M: yes … just being themselves
[8:09:19 PM] Rodger M: 🙂
Contrast makes life interesting…