What do you think it takes to create a learning opportunity? And how far is the human mind designed to learn against the odds, in almost any condition? We try to create ideal working and playing conditions for our children but what are the bare bones for learning to take root and flourish? How innate is it to childhood?
On January 29th 1999 Sugata Mitra, the science director of an Education Technology firm in India, carried out a fascinating experiment that seems to push out these boundaries of our expectations.
He installed a computer on an outside wall of a building located in one of the poorest slums in New Delhi. He turned on that computer and left it, telling the local gaggle of slum children, many of them illiterate and unschooled, that they could play with it. He then recorded the results on camera.
The kids (aged approximately between 7-13), were naturally deeply intrigued by the t.v. looking bit of equipment and started to play with it and explore it.
They discovered pretty early on how to move the curser, how to click with the touch pad, and started to navigate the screen. They eagerly told their friends, who told their friends, who also came to play, investigate and explore.
Within days, with no formal instruction from adults or previous schooling these kids were playing music, doing games and drawing with Microsoft Paint and navigating the computer like children do everywhere.
This experiment was conducted in other parts of India too, rural as well as urban. The same result was achieved; children learned to utilise the equipment through playful curiosity, naturally sharing and spreading the information.
In some instances, when basic literacy was present, the computers were used to explore and learn more complex ideas, for example in one remote Indian village where there was no prior knowledge of microorganisms, the children learnt about bacteria and viruses and used the information appropriately in conversations.
Mitra estimates that for every computer installed around India 300 children became computer literate within 3 months without any adult intervention. That is 30,000 computer literate children to 100 computers in 3 months!
Thanks to Peter Gray’s blog, Freedom to Learn.
Ref: Mitra and Dangwal 2010; Mitra 2004; Mitra 2003, 2005; Mitra and Rana 2001.