Indian-origin researcher shows comps can help kids learn sans teachers

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London, July 18 (ANI): A 10-year experiment that began with Indian slum children being given computer access has thrown up a new concept for education, an Indian-origin researcher told a conference.

Professor Sugata Mitra first made hole in the wall computers available to children in a Delhi slum in 1999.

Since then he has seen children learn and teach others how to use computers and gather information.

Follow up studies demonstrate children across 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," The BBC quoted Prof Mitra, as telling the TED Global (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference.

Prof Mitra's began the project when he was working with a software firm and decided to embed a computer in the wall of his office in Delhi that was facing a slum.

He said: "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."

Surprisingly, the children quickly learnt how to use computers and access the Internet.

Prof Mitra said: "I repeated the experiment across India and noticed that children will learn to do what they want to learn to do."

The same results followed everywhere.

One group in Rajasthan learnt how to record and play music on the computer within four hours of its arrival in their village, he said.

Prof Mitra said: "At the end of it we concluded that groups of children can lean to use computers on their own irrespective of who or where they are."

He then expanded the scope of his experiments to other countries.

In Cambodia, for example, he left a simple maths game for children to play with.

Prof Mitra said: "No child would play with it inside the classroom. If you leave it on the pavement and all the adults go away then they will show off to one another about what they can do,"

He has gone ahead with his work in India.

He said: "I wanted to test the limits of this system. 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'."

When he returned two months later, the children said they had not learnt anything even after using 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'," Prof Mitra, who now works at Newcastle University, UK, said.

Prof Mitra has now formalised the lessons from his experiments and has come up with a new concept for schools called SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments). (ANI)

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