Sugata Mitra is well known for placing computers in "holes in the wall", ATM style. He has given the opening inspirational speech at the International Baccalaureate Heads Conference in Singapore.
Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University and also at Media Lab, MIT, he certainly entertained us all with a great talk.
He asked a question which is at the heart of the Change11 MOOC - what will the world look like in 50 years time? He did this by going back 50 or so years and looking at the radiogram (then MP3 which then vanished into a mobile phone), the telephone (from operators to connect people to mobiles which then vanished - we now can't tell whether people are talking to themselves or on a phone), and now the computer (already the size of a page, will it ever disappear altogether? Will we need body scanners in schools to prevent implanted mobile phones (!)). Will arithmetic be needed at all in 50 years time? Will it be an obsolete thing when you can do it automatically and powerfully with your implanted "thing"?
Could Education be an obsolete thing?
He described his progress from the Hole in the Wall computers through to his latest work in Gateshead. His point was that small groups of children (had to be a small group, not individuals), created a Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) and, given a big question, could learn together. There needed to be an appointed police officer-student to keep order, no more than groups of 4 or 5, and crucially, a big question on the lines of "who was Pythagoras?" or "what happens when you die?".
He described the scores obtained in India by children themselves (30%) and how these could be augmented by the "method of the grandmother" (stand behind and admire - the score went up to 50%). And also how aspirations can be changed by giving children other models to admire (TED talks instead of just media-pushed celebrities).
Returning to his original question, he left us with our challenge - since we cannot know what the world will look like, we need to develop the skills of reading comprehension, ability to search for information, and the development of a rational system of belief. I would add (what was implicit in his talk) that by asking questions which stimulated the interest and motivation of children, they would find out about the world they live in and develop the skills to go on doing so.
I asked myself in what ways is a MOOC a self organised system - one that might change in unexpected ways as it developed - and in what ways might it change?
Here is a version of the talk from TED: