In his 2013 TED talk, Sugata Mitra – educational researcher and winner of the 2013 TED Prize – shares a powerful example of kids learning on their own. Mitra was working at the time in New Delhi teaching computer programming. Right next to his office was a slum and one day Mitra placed a computer in the slum. “I gave a computer to children who never would have one, didn’t know any English, didn’t know what the Internet was.” Eight hours later, when he came back, the children were browsing the internet and teaching each other how to browse.
Mitra continued to test the ability of children to learn on their own with just a computer. These experiments culminated in Tamil-speaking children in a south Indian village learning the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer.
These experiences have led Mitra to ask some provocative questions. “Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes?” In contrast to the way k-12 education functions now, Mitra offers this vision:
I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.
This kind of learning is driven by questions: sometimes big questions like “when did the world begin”, sometimes questions related to the natural world like, “what are those twinkling lights in the sky?” Mitra wishes for a future of learning that supports children “all over the world to tap into their wonder and their ability to work together.”
Finally, while this vision for learning is certainly applicable for classroom education, it is equally relevant for a wide range of education options. Mitra says: “you can do Self-Organized Learning Environments at home, in the school, outside of school, in clubs.”
Mitra is continuing his experiments through the organization, The School in the Cloud which is a global experiment in self organized learning. It’s amazing to see how they are tapping into the inner desire to learn.