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Encouragement creates gifted children

Sugata Mitra believes his many experiments prove a child like Cherbourg State School’s Patsy Clevens, 7, could reach the standard of an office secretary in nine months if she was given constant encouragement and left alone with a computer and some friends for nine months. Images supplied

by Marcus Priaulx 24 June 2014


ugata Mitra wants to build a “school in the clouds” after finding nearly all children can be deemed gifted if they’re given a computer and encouragement. The Indian man proved the concept after listening to rich and middleclass countrymen brag about their children’s abilities. They thought their youngsters must be surely smarter than average child as they were figuring out complex questions at a much earlier age than their parents. It got Sugata to thinking. So he put a computer in the wall of a Deli slum that sided the building where he taught computer programming. Children raced up to him and said “what is this?”. “Yeah, I don’t know” he replied

and walked away. Eight hours later he returned to find children browsing the internet and teaching others how to do so. His workmates suggested an adult passing by may have taught them. So Sugata repeated the experiment 300 miles away in a remote village where the chance of a software engineer passing by was slim. He returned three months later to find children who wanted “a faster processor and a better mouse”. He repeated the experiment time and time again; leaving a machine that only worked in English to find young children had taught themselves the language and how to use the machine. Sugata began to publish his findings and stated: “In nine months a group of children left alone with a computer in any

language would reach the same standard as an office secretary in the west”. “I’d seen it happen time and time again,” he said. Trying to destroy his own theory But Sugata was curious to how much the children could learn so tried to destroy his own argument by creating the absurd hypothesis of: “Can Tamil speaking children, in a southern Indian village, learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a streetside computer”. The answer is ‘yes’. Sugata downloaded the subject material, much of which he could not understand, and told the children it was very important and all in English. When asked how they could learn it he replied “I haven’t the foggiest idea; and anyway, I’m going away”.

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Two months later he tested the children and found they got 30 per cent. But Sugata wanted to see if they could pass so asked a 22-year-old accountant to help by using the ‘grandmother’ method. This involved her standing nearby and encouraging the children with phrases like “how’d you do that?” and “gosh, I’d never be able to do that”. Two months later the children got 50 per cent at 12 years old. Sugata then knew there was a way to level the education playing field between the poor and the rich. “Encouragement seems to be the key,” he said. “If we look at all the experiments I did, it was simply saying ‘wow’; saluting the work.” Sugata is now creating a School in the Clouds using “grannies” to encourage children all over the world to “let learning happen”. The “granny” or a teacher sets the process in motion then stands back in awe and watches learning as it happens. Sugata told an Ask Ted audience, that telling a child to work out the tangent of an angle in a classroom was not sexy enough. “The way to put it to a nine year old is to say ‘if a meteorite was coming to hit the Earth how would you figure out if it was going to or not?’.” “If he says ‘what? how?’ you say ‘there’s a magic word called “there’s a tangent of an angle’ and leave him alone. “He’ll figure it out.”

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Could Cherbourg State School’s Year-4 students Eddie Aubrey and Tallis George achieve great things with just a computer and constant encouragement? Extensive tests indicate they could.

Sugata now hopes schools from around the world contribute to further data collection of his theory that “all a child needs to learn is a computer and encouragement”. He wants them to do this by providing Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) to their

students and sending the results to his Schools in the Clouds. “It can be done in the home, at school, clubs…,” he said. “It’s easy to do.” To find out more go to watch?v=y3jYVe1RGaU

Encouragement creates gifted children  

by Marcus Priaulx 24 June 2014 Sugata Mitra wants to build a “school in the clouds” after finding nearly all children can be deemed gifted i...

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