Good read: With the Right Technology, Can Children Teach Themselves?

There is a $15 million Global Learning XPRIZE, being billed as the largest-ever technology competition in the private sector, to “revolutionize global education.” And what is the basic idea: the winning team of the Global Learning XPRIZE, organizers say, will “develop a free, open-source and scalable software solution in 18 months that can enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic.”

But can children, with the right technology, teach themselves? We already discussed this claim by the like of Sugata Mitra over and over again. In this NPR-article on Mindshift the scientist is quite critical (imho deservedly)

Payal Arora is not so sure. A media and communication professor at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication in the Netherlands, she has studied a similar attempt at technologically driven self-learning, the Hole in the Wall project in India.

Started by Sugata Mitra, Hole in the Wall simply places computers with an Internet connection in locations where they will be accessible by children. Mitra’s concept of “minimally invasive education” won the 2013 TED Prize, given to a “visionary leader” with a “high-impact wish for the world.”

Most of the positive research on Hole in the Wall comes from Mitra himself and his collaborators. There are reports of children acquiring basic computer literacy and researching topics like genetics.

Arora visited a few such sites in the Himalayas and found very different results. “The two most popular things are porn and video games,” she says. “The boys download them and take over. It becomes a male domain, and daughters don’t want to go there.”

Mitra has responded publicly to Arora’s claims, calling them “armchair debate.”

Arora says the Global X Prize, like Hole in the Wall and One Laptop Per Child, represent not an evidence-based approach but an ideology: the belief that “Human resources are so deeply flawed that investments in technological resources will be much more effective.”

But in reality, she argues, “learning is never 100 percent self-directed. Of course we want children to be agents of their own learning, but no one in their right mind would say let’s get rid of human input, from parents, schools, or communities.”

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