A surprise meeting with Sugata Mitra…

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)

Does access to technology mean access to education?

Today’s #edchat topic was:

‘How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?’

Many felt that access to technology was the key. But there were just as many tweets expressing the opinion that providing access to technology is not as important as providing good teachers. I usually agree with the latter and have blogged several times about learning being the driver and technology just the tool. But then I work in a privileged school. I confess that I found my thoughts somewhat confused and I left the #edchat conversation in the middle to process further.

I’m still thinking… Does access to education mean access to technology? Does access to technology mean access to education?

Meanwhile, I’d like to repost the following for those who’re unfamiliar with it, to provoke some further thought. I first posted it in November when this blog had about 12 readers!

Have you heard of the inspirational hole-in-the-wall project ?  Several years ago, a computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra, had an idea. What would happen if he could provide disadvantaged children with free, unlimited access to computers and the internet?  He launched what came to be known as the hole in the wall experiment.

Listen to this fascinating TED talk from 2007 , in which Sugata Mitra talks about the project and asks what else children can teach themselves!


SOLE and SOME

In my previous post, I wrote about Prof Sugata Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment.  Here’s the incredible continuation…

SOLES and SOMES is an amazing project in which educators from all over the world are contributing their time, over skype, to help underprivileged children in India to learn!

I am quoting the following straight from their wiki…

“The work before SOLE & SOME:

Sugata Mitra’s earlier work through the Hole in the Wall experiments, showed that groups of children, given shared digital resources can learn to use computers and the Internet and go on to learn almost anything on their own that they have an interest in. They do not seem to require adult supervision.

Action:

In the last three years, we have created 12 Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) in addition to the several hundred ‘hole in the wall’ computers that exist in India, Cambodia and several African countries.

There exists a cloud of mediators that have begun to interact with these SOLEs. The cloud is self organised and called a Self Organised Mediation Environment (SOME). The mediators interact with the children over Skype.

The SOLE Facility:

Currently, Project SOLE is up and running in 10 locations in India [with an 11th one due to start any day now!], mostly in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh [one is in a rural area of Maharashtra].

Typically, a SOLE is a ‘room’ located in the school premises clearly visible to all those who pass [that’s the reason we use huge glass windows!]. In the process we ensure a transparency that facilitates children’s safety as well as unobtrusive monitoring of the activities inside the SOLE.

There are usually 9 computers in clusters of 3 [although we are experimenting with other arrangements] which facilitates the children’s interaction across computer terminals as well within their group. A key factor is that there are usually 4 children per computer working or playing together, you will often find many more gathered behind, standing around watching what’s going on.

SOME:

It seems, from your response, that there are a very large number of people in the world willing to give a little of their time and be ‘mentors’ for children who need it. Imagine a world where thousands of such mentors / mediators are available to a child over the Internet. Not a typed or texted presence, but a real face-to-face conversational presence. A world where the children interact with who they wish – for entertainment, for help with work, for emotional support, or just for a chat.

This is the group of SOME volunteers that is emerging – a group of people who would make themselves available over Skype for, say, one hour a week. We would then schedule ‘sessions’ with schools in India, to start with, when a ‘mediator’ will interact with a group of children. This could involve reading stories, conversing, singing and all those things friendly people do with children.”

What an inspirational project! I am filling in the volunteer form right now. Does anyone want to join me?