Slumdog Millionaire Provides a High Yield
With its inspirational story, the Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, attracted lots of attention. Now its influence is extending in ways unforeseen. The "developed world" is accustomed to offering advice to those in the "developing countries." Now at least in one area, that relationship is being turned on its head.
The film was modeled on the Hole In The Wall learning project of Professor Sugata Mitra where computers with internet connection were installed in Delhi slums for local children to discover. Mitra found that the children began to teach themselves English, computing and maths, just a month after starting to use the PCs.
Now, as professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in England, Mitra is turning his eye to Britain. Working with eight- to 12-year-olds in three schools across the north-east of the country, he is helping them to use computers to carry out "self-activated learning" in the classroom.
Mitra summarizes the philosophy behind the project in the following terms, "Most British children grow up with the internet and have the means to learn what they want in minutes, and this challenges the traditional idea of school being about learning things that will come in handy in the future. They become disengaged." But "If you encourage individual learning, and give children interesting questions to look into independently, the learning process is sparked by curiosity."
On each visit, Mitra asks students to divide into small groups to answer science questions on topics such as how animals adapt to their environments, and how the human body works. The children can change groups at any time, look at what other groups are doing, chat and freely use computers. The effects, as recorded by the teachers, are astonishing.
Asked "why do we slip on wet surfaces?" pupils initially looked confused. But 15 minutes later, their answers ranged from "because friction occurs when two surfaces meet, and there's little friction on wet surfaces," to a complicated discussion of traction.
Perhaps because it seems like fun, the knowledge seems to stick. Three months after one session, the children were given a surprise test and the teachers were shocked to find that they had all remembered everything, even though the test was a surprise."
For a variety of reasons (ranging from problems in motivating students to meeting financial pressures that schools are facing), this approach is certainly worth pursuing. But it does not mean that children can "go it alone." What is does mean is a re-thinking of the adult's role in the designing and presenting the curriculum. At a minimum, we need to determine (a) the topics and issues that children should pursue, (b) the guidance that must be offered so that children organize and extend their thinking and (c) the assistance that can and should be offered when students are stymied. These are immensely important and seriously neglected issues in education. It would be wonderful if this model helped set the scene for work in these areas.