Kids teach each other to use computers

Without adult supervision, children can teach each other to use computers to learn, Professor Sugata Mitra told the TED Global (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference. From the BBC:

In 1999, Mitra embedded a computer a computer in the wall of a Delhi building facing a slum. The poorly educated children, who didn’t know English, quickly learned how to access the Internet.

“I repeated the experiment across India and noticed that children will learn to do what they want to learn to do.”

In Rajasthan, children learned “how to record and play music on the computer within four hours of it arriving in their village”

In Cambodia,  he left a computer loaded with a simple math game.

“No child would play with it inside the classroom. If you leave it on the pavement and all the adults go away then they will show off to one another about what they can do,” said Prof Mitra, who now works at Newcastle University in the UK.

He gave computers loaded with biotechnology information (in English) to 26 Tamil-speaking 12-year-olds in south India.  Two months later, children said they hadn’t learned anything, despite using the computers every day.

“Then a 12-year-old girl raised her hand and said ‘apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA contributes to genetic disease — we’ve understood nothing else’.”

Mitra has designed SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments), which consist of a computer with a bench big enough to let four children sit around the screen. “It doesn’t work if you give them each a computer individually,” he said.  He also created a “granny cloud” — 200 volunteers who will video chat with students.

SOLE is being tested in Britain and Italy.

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  1. What I’ve found in teaching technology classes to middle schoolers is that the most effective thing to do is a short intro to the software and task–then give them something to do with it, back off, and watch while circulating through and giving occasional tips. They’ll naturally gravitate toward small groups exploring the best way to complete the task, and it’s more effective.

    Heck, it’s the way I prefer to learn using the computer.

  2. wahoofive says:

    If you tried it in America it would be vandalized within 24 hours.

  3. GoogleMaster says:

    Learning to *use* computers is easy. Learning to *design* computer hardware or to write software that handles edge cases properly and not just the “happy path” is difficult. Millennials think they’re smarter than the boomers and the boomers’ parents merely because they can use the technology. They forget that the boomers and the generations before them invented the technology that the millennials are using.

    – Internet (ARPAnet): 1960s, created by a team at MIT who were born late in the Silent Generation.
    – First email message: 1969, sent by a Boomer.
    – First cell phone: 1973, invented by Martin Cooper, Silent Generation.
    – World Wide Web, first HTTP communication, 1990, Tim Berners-Lee, a Boomer.

    As for music recording and playback: the pulse-code modulation that makes it possible was patented in 1937 by a member of the Greatest Generation. The first digital speech transmission was in 1943; computerized digital recording was invented in 1957.

    If we don’t provide the STEM grounding necessary to understand the technology already in existence (how and why it works, not how to use it), I don’t see how future generations will be able to invent anything of substance.

  4. I think I prefer the iPad-like teaching computers used in Ender’s Game.

  5. Tom Linehan says:

    The first three grades of school I had were in a two room schoolhouse with two teachers and eight grades. The older and more advanced kids taught the younger and less advanced kids. There was no way that any teacher could teach 4 grades at once. I noticed the same phenomenon among my grandkids when left to their own devices.

    In a sense the modern classroom is an artificial device that sometimes impedes learning at least among kids.

  6. greeneyeshade says:

    I can think of one thing that might improve the kids’ performance: Let them think they’re breaking the rules when they use it.