I just watched Sugata Mitra’s TEDTalk on child driven education. He’s a researcher from Delhi that has done some really amazing experiments. Watch the video, less than twenty minutes and very entertaining.
Mitra raises the issue of how the best teachers aren’t present where they are most needed – mainly poor and/or isolated areas. But was the lack of teacher the problem or was it the absence of necessary tools needed to access information? Essentially, could kids learn if the means to learning was provided sans teacher? In a slum in India, Mitra placed a computer with internet access, in a wall, turned it on, and then left. Kids in the neighbourhood, having never even seen a computer, began using it and in a short time, were recording themselves singing on it. Several other unique experiments around the globe yielded similar results. Really interesting stuff.
In all his experiments, the kids who were participating were left with very little guidance from Mitra. In all but the first there was an objective given, but there were always barriers to overcome such as language and new technologies. I liked how Mitra said that on several occasions that after he would give the (difficult or nearly impossible) objectives to the participants, he would leave. He would let them figure it out on their own. Just like in his extreme scenarios, our one-day students will need to figure things out on their own. They will need time and space to wrestle with problems and come to their own conclusions.
They can`t be expected to grow and learn alone though. Mitra`s findings also recognize the need for peer to peer learning and cross communication between groups. Rigid structure as to how classrooms are operated does little to foster student learning. More freedom can mean more engagement with the material. Unlimited freedom is not the answer though, and I think there will always a need for a teacher, in some form or another. The role of the teacher becomes more of a facilitator – guiding and encouraging discussion and problem solving.
Stepping back from the talk, the availability of research and discussion like this is so valuable for professional development. Access to new ideas and perspectives surrounding education will make you revisit your own beliefs and actions. Question whether you agree with different theorists, and how you are going to help give your students the education best suited to meet their needs.