If you’ve never heard of Sugata Mitra and his “hole in the wall” learning experiments, you should take a few moments to listen to his fascinating TED talks:
I first heard about Mitra in an education course on diversity. We watched one of these videos, and I think everyone in the class was amazed by the results Mitra had gotten by leaving kids alone with computers and seeing what they could do. Mitra argues that teaching, and perhaps knowledge, is becoming irrelevant. Children will teach themselves, given technological resources. As outlandish as this first seems, he shows cases over and over of children doing just that.
So, are teachers irrelevant? And if so, what the heck am I doing in school getting my teaching credential?
I think the answer comes towards the end of the second video. Children can teach themselves amazing amounts of information. But they need someone to ask the big questions — to give them a purpose. While they may sometimes come up with the questions themselves, a gentle push in the right direction will speed up the learning process. And if there is something specific they need to learn (for whatever greater purpose), this nudge will allow them to do it.
I also question whether completely child-driven learning can teach the fundamentals as effectively as a teacher – how about reading? Can a child learn to read solely by working cooperatively with other students on a computer? I feel like so much of what a computer can teach us is driven by literacy. Without having the tools of written language, computers are much less useful. That doesn’t mean that this idea of child driven learning can’t be used to cement concepts introduced by teachers. Certainly this method seems to be a good tool for reinforcement. Especially in today’s American society, I’m just not convinced that it can be effective as the only way to teach and learn.
This article asks the question of whether student-driven learning can happen under the common core. In short, the answer is only if assessment systems (such as testing) adjust to accommodate this different style of teaching.