The Death of a Teacher and the birth of a Facilitator, a Manager and an admirer. Why are we afraid of Dr. Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud?
It is really amazing to note that the global English language teaching community in general and the teachers of English as a Foreign language in particular have started a crusade against a researcher who came into limelight with his “Hole in the Wall” project initially started at a slum near New Delhi, the capital of India. Dr. Sugata Mitra, a highly innovative and unassuming professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, UK, has successfully demonstrated that even without any direct input from a teacher and without the supervision and formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they are curious, motivated and left to themselves. Dr. Mitra has termed this kind of education, “minimally invasive education.”
The beginning of the project was quite simple. About 15 years back, Dr. Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall in a slum near New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected computer, with a hidden camera filming the area and left the place to find out the responses of the kids of that slum . To their utter amazement, they saw that the kids were playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.
The findings of his experiment prompted Dr. Mitra to undertake similar experiments in Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh,far away from Delhi and then to other countries including the UK. He got the same result both in the developing and the developed countries.
What’s so great about ‘The Hole in the Wall Project’? Why are teachers afraid of the minimally invasive education and the Self organized learning environment (SOLE) project propagated by Dr. Mitra? According to Dr. Mitra, his wish was “to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together”. He wants to build a School in the Cloud, where “children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online.”
When I listened to Dr. Mitra’s plenary talk at IATEFL 2014 on 5th April 2014 and the subsequent ‘Question and Answer session’ held on 19 April 2014, I did not find anything dangerous for the English language teaching community involved in teaching English across the globe. Dr. Mitra did not ignore the existence of schools or teachers. He wanted to redefine the concept of teachers and teaching. The traditional notion of teachers as ‘knowledge-givers’ is going to be obsolete. They can be facilitators and managers, not the village school masters of Oliver Goldsmiths famous poem, The Village School Master! To quote from Dr. Mitra’s observations during the Question Answer session, “The teacher is no longer someone imparting information/knowledge. Mainly because we’ve managed to create an environment where uni-directional export of information is not required. We should be proud of that, that children can find out things for themselves. Should there be someone around? Of course, to encourage them, to admire them, to ask them questions.”
The dearth of qualified teachers is a global phenomenon and therefore, we have to find out an effective alternative. If the internet can provide it, why should we grudge? Why are we afraid of our identity as teachers?
There is going to be a paradigm shift in ELT and as ELT practitioners we should accept it gracefully. Those who want to know more about Dr. Mitra may visit the following: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-05/plenary-sugata-mitra. http://www.theschoolinthecloud.org. http://www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com. http://reflectiveteachingreflectivelearning.com/…/iate…
Dr Sugata Mitra never claims that we do not need schools. He says that they need to change. The schools and the teachers will have to change, Dr. Mitra asserts, because learners are changing and will demand change. If we don’t change ourselves, we will be obsolete. That’s the grim truth and it frightens us as we are too deeply rooted in our tradition. The Teacher as a Prophet, the Teacher as the provider of knowledge, the Teacher as the dispenser and the manipulator of truth!