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Can You Learn Without Being Taught?


There was a professor, Sugata Mitra, who had the idea to install an old computer in a kiosk in an Indian slum that was designed to be freely accessible to the local children, most of whom were not attending any school. Within hours, the children, with no instructions from anyone, were surfing the internet. Six months later, hundreds of these children were functionally computer literate, sending emails, operating software and games, and even doing a bit of troubleshooting. They came up with their own terminology for what they were discovering. This experiment lead Mitra to install computers throughout India in what came to be known as the "Hole in the Wall" project.


This study is not about the value of computer technology, it proves the centrality of both social and self-directed learning. This is how us humans have educated ourselves throughout our 300,000 years as a species. Learning in school cannot be created like outmoded computer labs, indoors, with students alone at their desks, eyes forward, and lips sealed. We are meant to learn together and through our own curiosity.


At the time of its inception, the world was amazed. Computers were complicated, crafted from cutting-edge technology, yet these uneducated children figured them out in no time and without being taught by a teacher.


As Mitra and his team tweaked and tested these hole in the wall computers, they found that computers installed indoors didn't produce nearly the same results. They also found that sharing the computers, rather than one-person-per-computer, was essential to the learning process. That's because when left to their own devices, the children relied upon one another. It wasn't a process of each child learning things on their own, but rather of one child figuring something out then sharing it with all the other children. Mitra also discovered that if adults were supervising this process, the learning stopped happening, especially if the adults tried to instruct. We've observed this phenomenon as well in our studio.


If children know there is someone standing over them who knows all the answers, they are less inclined to find the answers for themselves.

Education is a process of self-organisation and learning is its emergent property and a relevant reminder to both parents and educators that learning happens in and out of school, and that children are natural learners. So let the learning happen!






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