The End of Teachers?

August 2, 2010


Do you think computers can replace a teacher? Do you consider a child educated if his head is full of facts? Hmmm…..

BBC News has a very interesting article:

Using computers to teach children with no teachers

A 10-year experiment that started with Indian slum children being given access to computers has produced a new concept for education, a conference has heard.

Professor Sugata Mitra first introduced children in a Delhi slum to computers in 1999.

He has watched the children teach themselves – and others – how to use the machines and gather information.

Follow up experiments suggest children around the world can learn complex tasks quickly with little supervision.

“I think we have stumbled across a self-organising system with learning as an emergent behaviour,” he told the TED Global (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference.

Professor Mitra’s work began when he was working for a software company and decided to embed a computer in the wall of his office in Delhi that was facing a slum.

“The children barely went to school, they didn’t know any English, they had never seen a computer before and they didn’t know what the internet was.”

To his surprise, the children quickly figured out how to use the computers and access the internet.

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

…”I wanted to test the limits of this system,” he said. “I set myself an impossible target: can Tamil speaking 12-year-olds in south India teach themselves biotechnology in English on their own?”

The researcher gathered 26 children and gave them computers preloaded with information in English.

“I told them: ‘there is some very difficult stuff on this computer, I won’t be surprised if you don’t understand anything’.”

Two months later, he returned.

Initially the children said they had not learnt anything, despite the fact that they used the computers everyday.

“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’.”

The article is quite long but very readable. I’m interested in things like this, because I like to learn about cultures, and because I home-educate my children. While my children’s reading comprehension skills are very high, I don’t think a computer can ever replace a teacher. I also think it all depends on what the term “getting an education” means. Is “getting an education” just a method of stuffing a kid’s brain with facts (that is, merely exposing a child with knowledgeable facts)? Or is getting an education a method of using facts to process thoughts and skills (showing the child how to take knowledge and apply it in life, aka, wisdom). A computer cannot teach wisdom. It can offer knowledge. I think that’s a notable difference.
What do you think?

Plus, as any parents realizes, there comes a phase in the child’s life when the child determines that he no longer needs to learn anything anymore (usually about age 13 or 14)– he thinks he is smart enough! Haha, now that’s usually when a teacher comes in REAL handy…

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned. Mark Twain

, , , ,

3 Responses to “The End of Teachers?”

  1. Jen Says:

    This is interesting. If a child wants to acquire knowledge, or an adult for that matter, they will. Having it shoved down their throats with minimal discussion like they do in our public school system doesn’t work. I like this idea and for knowledge starved children it might work very well. I’m not sure how it would do here in the US however. I’m going to read more about this.

  2. Karen & Gerard Says:

    Computers are a great tool for education, but won’t be replacing teachers any time soon. Kids need understanding and acceptance and love from a teacher can’t be duplicated by a computer.

  3. Secondary Roads Says:

    The fallacy is to think that because kids (and adults) can learn some things by using a computer that anyone can learn anything by the same means. OSFA (One Size Fits All) does not apply.