Sugata Mitra: Slum chic? 7 reasons for doubt

Donald Clark, Workplace Performance, Mar 05, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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Unlike the Nobel Prize, which rewards people for work they've done, the TED Prize is basically startup money for work they're going to do. This with the 2013 prize, which gives Sugata Mitra about $1 million to develop something called  School in the Cloud. This recent attention has caused some writers to examine the initiative that made him Gates-worthy in the first place, the 'hole in the wall' initiative, where he put computers in public places in India and watched as kids taught themselves how to use them.

Audrey Watters, for example, says people should ask critical quesions, questions about "this history of schooling as Mitra (and others) tell it," about "the funding of the initial “Hole in the Wall” project (it came from NIIT, an India-based 'enterprise learning solution' company that offers 2- and 4-year IT diplomas)," questions "about these commercial interests in 'child-driven education'."

Donald Clark assails Mitra's work. "'What we see is the idea of free learning going into free fall' said Payal Arora. When Arora came across these two ‘hole-in-the-wall’ sites, accidentally in India, she discovered not the positive tales of self-directed learning but failure."

Mike Caulfield offers heretical thoughts. "Mitra’s got a bad case of straw man disease here, but the most striking thing about his exposition is that he seems to believe our educational system was invented a specific time to solve a well-defined, identifiable problem: the production of clerical workers."

I'm not as critical as they about the concept of what Mitra calls self-organized learning. After all, that's pretty much what I'm up to. But I don't think learning will be reformed from the top down with TED talks and Gates grants, because I have my doubts that the learning provided by the corporations of today will be any more enlightened tghan the learning created to serve the needs of corporations in Victorian England. (Photo: what's left of the 'hole in the wall' project. Via Donald Clark.)

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