Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – September 2008

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" A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be. "
Arthur C Clarke

" A child born today in the United Kingdom stands a ten times greater chance of being admitted to a mental hospital than to a university ... This can be taken as an indication that we are driving our children mad more effectively than we are genuinely educating them. Perhaps it is our way of educating them that is driving them mad. "
R D Laing

" Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education. "
Bertrand Russell

" Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions. "
Albert Einstein

September 07 2008

A hole in the wall

I subscribe to TED talks and last week received their latest selection of video links. One in particular caught me, so after watching it I posted it to a home education forum I participate on. Since then, I've noticed posts about it and links to it in all sorts of places, so clearly I was one among many and it's a talk that's grabbed a lot of people's attention.

Why should this talk be so remarkable? It describes an educational project in India to examine the role of information technology in education, and formed part of a wider study into the impact of such things as urban poverty and rural isolation – both expressions of remoteness – on educational achievement. What's so compelling about it is that in devising his Hole in the Wall project, Sugata Mitra revealed an essential truth about human nature that our conditioned thinking about modern education seems to have completely blinded us to. This is a hole in the wall in far more ways than one.

Mitra's premise was that education technology had consistently been trialled in all the places that would least benefit from it. High-achieving schools in affluent neighbourhoods are already high-achieving: any improvement through the use of ET would be marginal at best. He wanted to see what impact it would have at the opposite end of the scale. His holes in the wall were quite literally that – a hole in a wall filled by a PC monitor and touchpad – and they were installed in places where children were unlikely to have ever encountered one before. Urban slums. Isolated villages in the hills. The PCs were installed, switched on, and left running either a search engine where internet was available, or a computer game on CD where it wasn't. Both the search engine and CD games were English-language based. That was it. Cameras were set up to monitor what happened next, and the machines were left for the local children to discover them.

Watch and listen for yourself ...

You can download a high resolution version here (283.4MB).

What is so extraordinary about this experiment is not that the children reacted the way they did – what they did was perfectly natural. Left to our own devices, it's what human beings do. What is so extraordinary is that the collective "wisdom" that's emerged from 140 years of compulsory, organised, authority-based, institutionalised education should be so ignorant of this simple fact. Bertrand Russell (left) was spot on.

Stupid isn't the half of it. Forcibly incarcerate children in a system which frustrates and represses these natural instincts for self-organised community learning and discovery, and it's no wonder our state education system is in the parlous state it's in and why it's dismally failing so many.

And England's answer to this? Force children to stay in the system a further year until they're 17. If, by the age of 16, all natural curiosity and desire for learning has been comprehensively squashed, exactly how is another year of the same going to be of any benefit? At least Scotland, Wales and N Ireland have had the good sense not to follow suit.

But what's even more revealing (and depressing) are the comments posted to this article. If these constitute a representative sampling of the British public, then not only does it vivdly confirm the nation's appallingly low rankings in child friendliness, but leaves no doubt that a sizeable proportion of the population eagerly support the establishment of a totalitarian state.

An example:

"If a child cannot read, write, and hold a sensible conversation about current affairs (and not just the latest reality tv rubbish or 'pop' music) by the age of 14 they should be sent out to work in a factory or forced to do some form of community service."

Time to emigrate ...

September 07 2008 | | | Permalink

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