Almost as soon we meet, Suneeta tells me she has a surprise for me. I imagine a specially prepared dish or a small gift, perhaps a souvenir of India.
It’s Sugata Mitra. He’s an old friend of hers, family almost, and she has worked closely with him for many years too. He’s in Pune for the day and visiting at her home.
Sugata immediately puts me at ease with his friendliness and banter. His sense of humor is dry and he cheerfully pokes fun at all and sundry. He and Suneeta have been friends since childhood and during my stay, she shares anecdotes from their past. I don’t generally think about the private lives of people whose work inspires me, so this is fun!
Ever since first encountering the the hole-in-the-wall, I have been fascinated and excited by the project, the further developments and related research into self organised learning environments. In a series of real-life experiments from Delhi to South Africa to Italy, he gave kids access to computers and the internet, producing results that should revolutionize how we think about teaching. It helped me see that if teachers let go of control and allow students to direct their learning, the learning is much more engaging and meaningful.
We talk about hole-in-the-wall and I learn that it is a company now, with computers in holes in many places. We talk about SOLES and Sugata tells me more about his work in schools around the world with self-organized learning environments. I tell him about my school and we share anecdotes about teachers who have trouble letting go of control and allowing the students to own their learning. I’m interested to hear that he has seen new open-plan learning spaces being used in old ways and I realise that the reality at my school’s junior campus is far from unique. He confirms that changing practice takes time and is dependent on what people believe about learning, something we often talk about within my PLN. He tells me about his coming extended research, through MIT University in Boston, into how children teach themselves to read. Here’s a link to one of his recent talks on student directed learning.
Over lunch of dahl and rice, spicy fish and chappati, the conversation is relaxed and easy. Although today is the first time we have met, I’m with people who not only share my interests, but have helped shaped my beliefs about learning. I’m in my element.
While I am there, Sugata goes down the street to get his hair cut, something he only does when back in India, and tells me the worst haircut he ever had was just before his meeting with Prince Phillip. I joke that I will search for a photo of the occasion to compare haircuts…
(3rd in a series of reflections on my visit to Pune)