Letting learning happen…

Knowing is obsolete.

Teachers may no longer be needed.

Could it be that you don’t need to go to school at all?

If you’ve watched Sugata Mitra’s TED talks, you’ll have heard him deliver these and other similarly provocative statements that challenge the notion of school as most people know it. Wherever his work is mentioned, responses range from highly positive to even more highly critical to quite rude. For every teacher excited by his ideas, there are several who find them insubstantial, objectionable or downright threatening. For me, this is part of the charm!

My favourite line from his ‘School in the Cloud’ TED talk is this:

“It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen”… THIS is the key.

Whether or not you choose to believe that schools will change (or, gasp, become obsolete); whether you believe that teachers are instructors, facilitators, guides or not required at all…

Are you ready to acknowledge that children are able to learn by themselves?

Have you taken steps to release control and encourage your students to take ownership of their learning?

Are you ‘letting learning happen’? 

I’ve followed Sugata’s work since the early days and his ‘hole-in-the-wall’ experiments influenced the thinking of thousands of teachers, by highlighting the possibilities of student driven learning. In the video below, he talks about the current status of the School in the Cloud project, his wish that won the 2013 million dollar TED prize.

I’ve met Sugata in person and enjoyed his tongue in cheek sense of humour and the way he cheerfully pokes fun, so I find his closing words amusing…

What would it be like if we had the kind of world where if you asked a child ‘Do you go to school?’ he says ‘I don’t know’?…well, think about that”.

When I once showed my elderly mother photos of learning in the school at which I work, it didn’t look at all like school to her. I sincerely hope that when my great-grandchildren go to school (if indeed school still exists), it won’t look anything like school today.

For now, I’m excited to be working with teachers and learners in these changing times, exploring inquiry learning, provoking thinking, pushing boundaries, challenging the notion of school as it used to be and ‘letting learning happen‘.

And I’m even more excited to be part of the learning in Sugata’s ‘School in the Cloud’.

I’ve been a member of the ‘granny cloud’ for a number of years, interacting with children in a range of settings in India and, along with the other ‘grannies’ (including people of both genders and all ages!) supporting Suneeta (Research Director of the School in the Cloud) who’s been instrumental in keeping this project alive, breathing life into it during even the most challenging times.

Yesterday marked the opening of the first ‘School in the Cloud’ in India, at a government girls’ school in Delhi, a stone’s throw from the site of the first hole-in-the-wall, and I was there (well, only on the screen), not just observing, but playing an active role.


As always in these sessions, the children started off a little reticent, quiet, filled with awe… but soon they were chatting and smiling and even singing for me.

It didn’t matter that there were other people in the room – Suneeta, the media, visitors, Sugata and his crew – I was unaware of them as I engaged with the kids.

It didn’t matter that screen-sharing wasn’t working properly. The cloud grannies are used to abandoning plans and improvising.

It didn’t matter that the girls are unfamiliar with Skype and didn’t know where to type their names, when I didn’t quite understand their accents. They will figure it out next time.

It’s been a while since I last interacted with kids in the SOLES and I am really happy to be back. It’s exciting to be part of Sugata’s vision of learning and I’m ready to ‘let learning happen‘…

7 thoughts on “Letting learning happen…

  1. Edna
    Your posts have a nasty habit of arriving when I am in the thick of it in day school here in Maidenhead, UK. The whole ideas about learning that are re-emerging after cycles of ‘abolition’ by central government inspire me as they did my parents and their ancestors too. I have a manuscript and gold medal struck by an Oxford college of one forebear, James Wilding, back in 1828, with a list of grateful tutees making it quite clear he fostered their learning really well even ear. Imagine doing that 200 years ago without an internet! How on earth did the age of enlightenment begin to happen, let alone steam engines and an understanding of celestial movement?
    What schools can amazingly well is socialise their children to be open to learning. Left to Children’s own devices, sadly outcomes move towards ‘Lord of the Flies’ conclusions, again evident over the centuries. Sugata Mitra’s work is amazing, but won’t be a blueprint for the future, in my view, but an interesting extra to the mix. I remember researchers discovering under the LA motorway arches the school refusers whose reading ages and IQs turned out to be off the roof; disengaged at school and bored by such an academic poor diet, they voted with their feet. The availability of easy access alternative schooling is going to be an amazing improvement.
    Our experience using new technologies (Google Apps and Chromebooks) for the last 2 years is showing just how much the educators need to be masters of their subject, really familiar with the technologies and open to their learners making choices in how to respond to the questions thrown up in their curriculum. Learning is not linear, but it is progressive, and with adults and children now learning together, school atmosphere is vastly better. Yet there are still times when direct instruction is necessary; whether that be getting your head around 13 century sensitivities around the birthing of parliaments or learning to balance chemical equations, really rapid progress is made by not beating around the bush.
    Perhaps above all, what I see in our school is that we can identify for children what to practice, because practice makes permanent. Focussed on the wrong activities for too long, really bad habits get instilled, difficult to break and often the default to return to when the going gets hard.


  2. Hi Edna

    That’s great you’re one of the Grannies in the cloud! I’ve heard Sugata Mitra live too. (By chance, it was twice in the same month!) He is funny as you say. He saw provocative things that get educators thinking and wondering. I wonder what makes some children hunger and thirst for knowledge, whereas others would be content to play computer games all day long. Somewhere in-between those two extremes, sits the role of the Teacher.

    I will remember your phrase regarding “letting the learning happen”, just as I remember Lynn Erickson’s phrase “Teach them to use their minds. Content is the tools…” They are very powerful ideas that if taken to heart, will change the nature and look of schooling completely.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s