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Education News Technology

A School in the Cloud 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-a-parachute-for-recess dept.
gurps_npc writes "Recently there was a poorly designed study that claimed computers don't help teaching. Here with the opposing viewpoint is Sugata Mitra in his recent TED talk. He went to a tiny village in India and put a computer there with software about DNA replication (in English, even though they did not speak or read English). When he came back months later, a group of young children said, 'We don't understand anything — except that mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases.' At heart, his argument is that the old style of teaching derives from Victorian England's need for bureaucrats, so it creates minimally competent people that know how to read, write, and do math in their head. He wants to update our teaching methods with more creative and technological solutions." One of Mitra's main points is that given resources and a question to ponder, children will learn on their own. Interference and too much direction gets in the way of that. Mitra won the $1M TED prize this year for his work. He said in an interview, "We spent 7000 years debating this issue of how do we educate everybody. We have never lived in a world where one standard educated everyone. And given that we have failed for over 7000 years, perhaps we will never have one standard. Maybe the right conclusion is that we do away with standard education. Maybe the convergence of technology and curiosity will solve this problem."
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A School in the Cloud

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  • lol (Score:5, Insightful)

    by masternerdguy (2468142) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:39PM (#43028831)
    We didn't spend 7000 years trying to educate everyone, we've been trying to educate everyone for maybe 400.
    • Re:lol (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:54PM (#43028965) Homepage Journal

      We didn't spend 7000 years trying to educate everyone, we've been trying to educate everyone for maybe 400.

      For extremely small values of "everyone."

      • Re:lol (Score:4, Insightful)

        by masternerdguy (2468142) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:56PM (#43028985)
        Last I checked lots of countries now require a minimum state approved education paid for by tax money. That's much better than only educating the aristocracy and putting all the peasant children to work.
      • We have been trying to educate "everyone" since the second world war (ie about 1945). For a very limited value of "we".

        the old style of teaching derives from Victorian England's need for bureaucrats No .. British education was originally designed (by ancient Greeks) to create politicians. This was copied by people wanting to teach people who wanted to know stuff (preferably what the Bible says), or possibly wanting have a life style more like the politicians. It is only in the last 10 years that teaching

    • by Synerg1y (2169962)

      why you don't google your false facts before posting is beyond me: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education [wikipedia.org] , but it's a bit more than 400 by a few thousand years. You might be thinking > the history of the red bricked school building or something.

      • You mean the article that states, among other things, "Providing literacy to most children has been a development of the last 150 or 200 years, or even last 50 years in some Third World countries," and "In many early civilizations, education was associated with wealth and the maintenance of authority, or with prevailing philosophies, beliefs, or religion" ?

        It hasn't been thousands of years that education has been available to just about everyone in most nations/regions.

    • There are times I cringe when "educate" is used as a substitute to "learning"

      Did someone educate you on how to walk on your two feet, or did you do that by your own, learning through trials and errors?

      Did someone educate you on how to speak whatever language that you are using, or did you somehow learn it by listening to the sound made by the adults?

      It's mindboggling nowadays when people forget the most basic thing that makes each and every one of us who we are - that we are "learning machine", that "educat

      • I think it can be taken for granted that educate and learn are intertwined.

        Learning ability differs from person to person - this can be measured and educational material can be altered to maximise the learning of any given individual.

        My children learned to communicate by listening and watching, but if I didn't correct their errors their communication skills (listening and speaking) would be at a lower level today than they are.

        • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

          My children learned to communicate by listening and watching, but if I didn't correct their errors their communication skills (listening and speaking) would be at a lower level today than they are

          Your effort in correcting your children's errors is a process whereby you, a person, share your experience with your children, by showing them the right way to use the word (pronounce it, grammar, et cetera), and on the other side of the coin, your children pick up on what you have shared with them and they learn

          In other words, what you did wasn't "education", but mere sharing of experiences

          Going back to what I said on the original comment, if there is no learning , or if there is nothing

          • by narcc (412956)

            In other words, what you did wasn't "education", but mere sharing of experiences

            Education is just systematic instruction (given by the teacher and received by the student).

            To be educated requires that you have learned. To educate requires that you teach. This isn't exactly complicated.

            So, what exactly are you babbling on about? Why post this ridiculous (and shamefully incoherent) rant? What did you hope to accomplish?

            • So, what exactly are you babbling on about? Why post this ridiculous (and shamefully incoherent) rant?

              Some people have a hatred for education. Sometimes it's because they experienced it done wrong, and can't imagine it done right; that's sad but understandable. Others have a preference that people remain ignorant. That, I don't understand.

      • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @08:09PM (#43030103) Journal

        You do not educate students - you share with whoever you want to "teach" what you know, show them (if it's possible) the process, and they pick up on that, just like they pick up, by themselves, how to walk, how to talk, et cetera

        But that is the very definition of education. Education is transmission of knowledge. Learning is its reception.

        Yes, someone educated me on how to walk. They held my hands, supported my weight, and wobbled me back and forth, transmitting to me the sequencing of walking. Yes, someone educated me on how to talk. They spoke to me and showed me pictures of things and told me the words that matched the pictures. Teachers educated me on how to form the letters, how to combine the letters to form words, and how to string words together to form sentences. Would I be able to speak, write, and type English if I were not educated in the language? Of course not.

        We may be excellent "learning machines", but we will only get so far without a teacher to teach us. Education is what brings us beyond simple grunts and gestures to poetry; and brings us from finger counting to trigonometry. Yes, some are better learners than others, and yes, some are better teachers than others, but make no mistake: education is vital to modern society.

        • but we will only get so far without a teacher to teach us.

          Depending on how motivated you are, you can usually get quite far without a teacher to teach you. See: self-education. Well, unless you considered books and other educational resources to be teachers...

          • but we will only get so far without a teacher to teach us.

            Depending on how motivated you are, you can usually get quite far without a teacher to teach you. See: self-education. Well, unless you considered books and other educational resources to be teachers...

            Difficult call. In a sense they are "teachers" because they impart the knowledge contained within. On the other hand, the material was prepared by teachers, or some sort of educator, so in a sense, it is just time delayed education. Furthermore, self education at that level requires being educated in using the books and other educational material to begin with. Dump a toddler alone on a deserted island with all the books in the world and you're not going to find a college graduate there when you pop in t

            • Dump a toddler alone on a deserted island with all the books in the world and you're not going to find a college graduate there when you pop in to check 25 years later.

              Well, if you were talking about children that young, then I would agree with you.

      • by tibman (623933)

        Self-taught is almost dirty to say though. "How did you learn that?" Oh, i taught myself on weekends. "Welp, we'll get someone with training in here soon." : /

      • You do not educate students - you share with whoever you want to "teach" what you know, show them (if it's possible) the process, and they pick up on that, just like they pick up, by themselves, how to walk, how to talk, et cetera

        In a word: bullshit.

        Walking is a pre-programmed function of the human nervous system. So is, to a large degree, talking.

        OTOH things like integral calculus or advanced martial arts require stacking one skill upon another upon another over a long period. Complex cognitive and psy

      • by wisty (1335733)

        While there's lots of good self-taught musicians, generally educated musicians are better. The same is true for lots of things. People *can* teach themselves, but only if the skill is very easy, or they are hell-bent on learning.

        • by baffled (1034554)

          Your definition of 'hell-bent on learning' is not necessarily the same as others'. I've continued to impress myself with the vastness/complexity of bodies of knowledge I can assimilate myself. With the right mindset and determination, the quality/comprehensiveness of your own skillset is unlimited.

      • by pnutjam (523990)
        Having someone provide constant demonstrations, whether it is talking, walking, or something else is a form of teaching. Google up some information of Feral children and you will see what happens when kids are not taught.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by WarJolt (990309)

      Arguably we still aren't trying very hard to educate everyone.
      Should we or are some people destined to do nothing with their lives?
      Additionally, it's arguable that most people will learn on their own given adequate access to resources and education.
      I know tons of self motivated people, but I also know tons that will not get off their butts.

      I tend to believe with a little encouragement that many people will learn on their own.
      Based on my own educational experience, I believe most teachers lack the ability to

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Your reference is culturally prejudicial. We have spent millions of years trying to educate humanity. Can you track wild animals, and know the animal by it's tracks and it health condition and age? Can you fabricate all the hunting tools you require to survive? Can you fabricate your clothing and accommodation? Due you know all the natural remedies available in your environment for the most common maladies? Can you communicate within your social group? Do you know the social mores of your group?

      Of course

    • 1852 saw the first compulsory education law introduced in the US, the last US state would follow in 1917. England got its in 1870.

      So... where do you get 400 years from? 2013 - 400 = 1613 that is still in the middle of the reformation.

      And considering a girl recently got a bullet in her head for wanting to go to school, I would say that we have NOT been trying to educate everyone for 400 years or whatever but more that for thousands of years people have been actively trying to NOT educate all.

      The danger of

    • by PiMuNu (865592)
      Universal education was an invention of the enlightenment, so started coming in mid-18th century e.g. universal primary education was introduced in, say, Austro Hungarian empire by Empress Maria Theresa during 1740/50s.
  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:39PM (#43028843)

    I learned a ton on my own as a kid by reading random articles out of an encyclopedia, and some of those "How Things Work" series of books. I imagine kids in India could do so, too— except that they don't have access to such books. So it seems overall more a matter of access to knowledge, in any form, than of something new and magical about technology-based learning as a specific form.

    • by El Micko (118401) *

      Absolutely.
      Please mod this parent comment up.

    • Actually, based on your comments and the findings of numerous other studies, it sounds like education has a lot to do with motivation, and relatively little to do with forms of education delivery. Look at the history of education, do you see enormous growth spurts tied to the printing press, movies, radio, home video, the internet? In as much as they make information more readily available they increase education. But it's not like there's some magic mode for learning. How many people would sit and watc

    • Books are heavier than electrons. These things matter.

    • What's easier for them though: building huge libraries and shipping in millions of books, or getting access to the same information by getting a broadband connection and a computer?

      I don't understand this glorification of ink-and-paper books when digital text is exactly the same thing except orders of magnitudes cheaper.
      • by Trepidity (597)

        Sure, electronic delivery might make it cheaper; I have no particular attachment to ink-and-paper. I'm a bit skeptical of the interactive learning stuff that this article is also pushing, though. Even with electronic delivery, you don't have to delivery fancy e-learning platforms and educational games and whatnot. You can just give the kids access to Wikipedia or similar.

      • At most levels the best text books are exclusively published in paper.

        Getting this same quality of text into digital form won't happen unless either the current publisher can monetise it, or someone writes an equally good new text and publishes it in digital format.

        Getting this material into the hands of people with little or no money requires someone to give a quality text away free of charge or for very little money.

    • by asliarun (636603)

      I learned a ton on my own as a kid by reading random articles out of an encyclopedia, and some of those "How Things Work" series of books. I imagine kids in India could do so, too— except that they don't have access to such books. So it seems overall more a matter of access to knowledge, in any form, than of something new and magical about technology-based learning as a specific form.

      I am a kid from India and did exactly the same things. I wasn't dirt poor or anything but I used to buy books for a couple of rupees (old books that were destined to be recycled). In India, people will pay you money for old newspapers and books that they will recycle later and many of them will sell these old books and magazines to others as a side business.

      I used to buy tons of business magazines and stray volumes of encyclopaedia, mainly because I was bored and loved knowing anything about anything.

      Childr

  • by wolvesofthenight (991664) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:46PM (#43028895)
    A computer is a very versatile tool. Used correctly it will help with an amazing array of tasks, including education. Used incorrectly they are either worthless or counterproductive. And, like many other tools, if you let kids play with it, they will learn something (which might or might not be what you wanted them to learn).

    Asking if computers help education is too broad of a question. A better question is "'When do computers help education and when do they hurt?" You can find good examples of each.
    • by Kjella (173770)

      A computer is a very versatile tool. (...) A better question is "'When do computers help education and when do they hurt?" You can find good examples of each.

      In my experience, when you use that versatility to do more fun, distracting and immediately rewarding things than learning anything which is most of the time in a forced learning situation. I don't know exactly when I went from an unwilling pupil to a willing student, but for many years I was in school because I had to be in school while I'd rather be out and play. A pretty common sentiment among kids and young teens, I would think. Textbooks don't really leave much room for doing anything other than readin

      • Yep, you have a good point about the distractions. When I was in 6th grade there was vague discussion that I would benefit from a laptop to do assignments on. Back then the cost put it way beyond being a serious consideration. But I know what I would have done, had I had one: use it to play games. Yea, a laptop would have been used and helped a little on assignments, but games would have been most of my use.

        What I really needed (and only figured out 13 years later): For the school to realize that in 3rd
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, and especially appreciated Mitra's open minded approach to educational possibilities.

    I am the parent of a child who is pursuing her education outside of a physical school setting, and I certainly recognized correlations with our experiences.

    Mitra is asking for people to expand the research, and materials are available [ted.com] to participate.

    I'll be fascinated to see how this develops.

  • I hope his study wasn't as terrible as the slashdot summary makes it sound. Or are we really suppose to believe that a computer disconnected from the internet with ONLY information on DNA replication is equivalent to a computer on the internet with a wide variety of educational and non-educational material easily accessible in seconds. Or maybe we're suppose to believe kids would choose to read information on DNA in a language they don't speak instead of playing angry birds?

    • Not to mention how does teaching in a Indian village (I assume is poor) act as a relevant anecdote for the average US citizen. I suppose it is easy to argue that a computer is better than nothing, especially in a place that probably can't afford to buy books.
  • Computers will not magically make a poor teacher a better teacher. They are a tool to augment teaching but will not make a poor teacher gifted. To improve teaching, we need to start with teacher education without the bells and whistles. Once the teacher learns and becomes proficient, he or she will understand how to use technology to reinforce the material. I had a very poor chemistry teacher that made frequent use of computers because he was unable to explain much of the material to a high school level
    • Re:Teaching (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iceaxe (18903) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @06:52PM (#43029407) Journal

      Actually, Mitra's point has little to do with computers except inasmuch as they make access to information vastly more available. The point is about how children, given access and motivation, learn quite remarkably well on their own. Think of it as a "Free Market" theory of education.

      Our teachers, bless them for their nearly thankless efforts, are as trapped as the students in our out of date education system. Freeing them is every bit as important as freeing the children.

      Anyway, the point is to find out how to make learning work better, not to throw out the good things about what we have.

      Cheers :)

  • Long overdue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XB-70 (812342) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @06:21PM (#43029199)
    Academia has been over-managed into a snarled knot of self-serving rules and regulations. Go to any School Board meeting and the discussion will centre on almost any topic except improving students' uptake of information. The cost of university has little to do with the actual outcome vis-à-vis employment. In short, much of the educational sector has lost focus.

    What to do? In my humble opinion, gaming is the answer. Not the gaming we're used to, but real-world, immersive, progressive gaming where students go into virtual grocery stores and learn to shop on a budget. Where trucks are loaded with goods and students have to figure out the optimal route to transport the goods to market. Where students are confronted with tax forms and have to figure them out (and be scored on them). Where a grandparent takes ill and they have to figure out what to do to care for them. Where they are given a virtual puppy/horse/ox and learn to train it. Lastly, they need a program which takes them through numerous scenarios of wealth creation. This last is probably what is most lacking from our present educational system.

    We are doing little if anything like this and yet, this is the world that we live in. If every school board on the planet put 0.05% of their budget towards the development of true AI-based educational gaming, our students would learn at a prodigious rate. Granted, we would have to adjust for region and language, but the essence of education is the same the world over.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't even want to know what your education was like if you think that is the real stuff people ought to be taught in school...

    • by melikamp (631205)

      You are right about students' uptake of information being important, and that games should be given a prominent share of the curriculum, but some of your game examples are bizarre. People already have the real life to teach them real life skills like shopping, filling out forms, and caring grandparents and pets. Building transport networks [wikipedia.org] is super-cool though. What kids mostly need the school for is to teach them skills that are impossible to obtain from the real life in one human lifetime, like rudimentar

    • by bidule (173941)

      The cost of university has little to do with the actual outcome vis-à-vis employment. In short, much of the educational sector has lost focus.

      Well, I sure hope universities aren't trying to make employees, that's a technical college's job. The primary goal of going to university is to learn how to think. The secondary goal is to add future movers and shakers to your circle of contacts, that why you pay real money.

  • by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @06:30PM (#43029261)

    It always annoys me when people claim to have discovered something new when all they're really doing is reverting to a past method that was recently discarded in the name of "new" and under the pretense of "better". It shows both ignorance and arrogance.

    For thousands of years, people learned through apprenticeship. People learned their trade from one person, and when they gained mastery over their craft, taught some small number of individuals who would hopefully go on to do the same, to varying degrees of success.

    Schools, where twenty to thirty students sit in a classroom and learn from some books and a teacher can only provide a baseline. The system is designed not at all to educate, but to make literate. And because of this, they tend to race to the bottom, especially if managed poorly.

    Today, the only place anything even remotely similar to a master-apprentice relationship could be found is at the doctorate level. One advisor, several candidates, and then they get their degree and become journeymen. Eventually, they may or may not become masters. This is the system that needs to be propogated back down to primary education.

    Yes, today's needs are different. There's a much greater emphasis on working with abstractions (oblig. xkcd [xkcd.com]) than on developing skills. There are also a far greater amount of knowledge needed in far more disciplines to be considered marginally competent. But I'm certain that the tried and true model of master and apprentice can be adapted to today's quantity, quality, and societal requirements of knowledge.

    The only hindrance is the attitude towards school (especially teachers' attitudes towards school), and towards teachers. People go into teaching because they like working with children. This is already a failure. Parents see teachers as their daytime (or full time, in the case of boarding schools) babysitters. This is also another failure. If the parent does not respect the teacher, then the children will not. If the teacher does not have anything worth respecting, then there's no reason for the parent or even the children to respect the teacher.

    The teacher needs to be the third parent. This is the core of the master-apprentice relationship. At home, the child has parents. When in a place of learning, the teacher is the parent. Children actually want to see their teacher as a parent. But there are social elements that discourage this thinking. Changing teachers every year, for example (mostly because teachers competent at teaching first grade may not be so good at teaching sixth grade) is instability, and children are most comfortable when things are stable.

    Testing, especially paper-based, multiple-choice, sit-at-your-desk-and-don't-cheat testing, is also very bad. Current testing separates students from each other. If the teacher is a third parent, then students in the same class are siblings. But if they are separated from each other during a test, then they cannot form the sibling relationship properly. Tests also do not show competency. They merely show interest in taking the test and perhaps patience. Yes, abstractions comprise mostly what is taught today. But comeptency can only be shown in the doing. That is why to get a doctorate, the candidate must further the field.

    Technology plays very little role in education--in fact, the same one as a calculator would play. It does not solve the education problem. Culture does.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Well, yes, PhDs have that sort of relationship. And masters students. Also trades - you know, all those things that were always taught though a master-apprentice method. That includes physicians, by the way. Oh, and there's every child, through the parent-child relationship.

      Primary school is an adaptation of various institutions, some very old, that we've used to teach all or most children do do basic things like read and write, since we don't currently need to send them to work in the fields (at least not

    • by radtea (464814)

      It always annoys me when people claim to have discovered something new when all they're really doing is reverting to a past method that was recently discarded in the name of "new" and under the pretense of "better". It shows both ignorance and arrogance.

      Our knowledge of pedagogy has improved considerably in the past century, which makes it worth revisiting the question. Masters who are ignorant of pedagogy, as the typical master of an apprentice was, are not good, efficient or effective teachers, as demonstrated by the lengthy terms of apprenticeship and the rather high failure rate.

      That said, modern "teacher education" is almost completely free of pedagogy. We know how to teach, and we know a number of methods that have been proven again and again under

    • But college level apprentices are still the wrong way to go for lot's of fields that can be better off with more or tech / trades school apprentice system.

      College level has to much theory and lot's of filler and fluff.

    • Indeed yes, education is about making people literate and numerate. AND THAT IS IT AND THAT IS ALL IT SHOULD DO.

      Nobody can make you smart or interested in learning. THAT is something you got to do yourself. Developing a questioning mind "why is it so" is impossible to enforce.

      Your parents can make you learn to ride a bicycle but only YOU can win the Tour de France.

      Your father can teach you how to weld but only YOU can build the Eiffel tower.

      Your mother can teach you how to read but only YOU can write th

      • by Whorhay (1319089)

        So I'm a little confused because normally your posts make a lot of sense to me. How is asking a co-worker their opinion on good topical books and googling the same significantly different, such that one is clearly good and the other clearly bad? In both cases the individual is seeking knowledge about a book to gain more knowledge. In fact knowing how internet searches are frequently modified by advertising money directly and things like google bombing, why would you hold it against a newbie if they asked a

  • When he talks about the "SOLE"s he put in classrooms, specifically when he mentions that the teacher just stands back and says "it just happens all by itself", you immediately see that all of those great ideas will be extremely hard to adopt on a mainstream level, almost impossible I fear.

    As he said, the British model of education is so well-designed and so firmly embedded into society, protected by political capital, laws, teacher unions, social norms, etc. that I don't see this happening in my lifetime,
    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Yes, we should be driven to learn instead of legally obligated to be educated. Yes, learning should be motivated by fun and curiosity and desire to learn. Yes, Maths should be visualized, intuitized, computerized, and made fun. Yes, History should be a bunch of stories and not a table of dates and events. Yes to all of his and Khan's calls to modern learning that bets on creativity and individuality. But none of this will happen, and for that reason, I won't bring another human being into this world to suffer through our schools and education system.

      Ok.....so who says it is the responsibility of the schools and the government to give that to your kids? Give it to them yourself. Either home school them, or encourage them to learn outside of school. Send your kid to Space Camp, or take them to an interactive science museum or a living history center. Foster their desire to learn, and they will find ways to learn, both in and out of school. In elementary school I read and reread a multi-book series on the Vietnam War that we had in the library. Did

      • Well, good for you, sounds like you had a nice time in school when you were younger. Where I went, they put little colored stickers on books to indicate the "reading level" of a book, and you weren't allowed to take a book that was at a higher level than the one corresponding to what year of school you were in. How's that for encouragement.

        I will admit that I am also quite lazy and quite unwilling to even enter a relationship, but that's not really my point here, though I guess it probably discredits ever
      • Either home school them, or encourage them to learn outside of school.

        Some states are extremely hostile towards homeschooling, and for kids who aren't home schooled, many probably won't want to learn after school after doing 7-8 hours of boring, useless work.

  • by PPH (736903)

    There's no telling what innocent young minds might stumble across out there. I mean, everyone knows that diseases are caused by the Wrath Of God, not DNA replication errors.

    That's why we [skepticblog.org] have to maintain control of the curriculum.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    He left some reading material lying around, and the kids read it, and it left an impression.

    Why is this suddenly an OMG COMPUTERS FIXED EVERYTHING article? You could get the same effect by dropping a satchel of illustrated books off in the same village. Oh, wait, no audio? No video? No multimedia? Okay, how about some film reels, and 8-tracks?

    Presto! The same exact effect, but no computers!

    But wait! None of that is "interactive"... Guess what, you don't need complex electronics to design and enforce interac

    • But it's obviously a novel approach, he added doing it "on a computer". In the US, it might even be given a methods patent.
  • Instead of asking how to educate people, I think we need to come to grips with what people want when they say they want education.

    At a personal level, although there is a vague notion that somehow education is important, it's likely that the thing most important to individual people about an education is not the fact or skills that are obtained, but certification that is conveyed and the value of that certification in societal status. If this is indeed true, the root desire for most folks in obtaining an e

    • I know that at least they could put up with a hierarchical institutional environment for 4 years

      Most people aren't paid to go to college, and the work that is done in college typically isn't anything like work done in the real-world. It doesn't tell you much, in my opinion. Some people just don't think formal schooling can give them a better education than some alternatives.

      and were able to do sufficient amount of learning to make academic progress.

      I'm not sure how you would know that.

      but that technology can't replace a good teacher.

      Depends on the student, and it depends on what qualifies as a "good teacher" to the student. Not everyone learns in the same ways, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution, "good teachers" incl

  • "He went to a tiny village in India and put a computer there with software about DNA replication (in English, even though they did not speak or read English). When he came back months later, a group of young children said, 'We don't understand anything — except that mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases.'"

    And this is supposed to prove WHAT, exactly? Am I supposed to be impressed by the depth of knowledge that the Indian children achieved?

    • by nbauman (624611)

      You're right. I don't believe it. There's no way that children from a rural village in India could understand DNA. Even well-educated western children can't understand DNA even in middle school or high school (unless they have parents who are very well educated).

      At best, you could teach them to parrot phrases that they don't understand, like "mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases."

      You could just as easily teach them to parrot phrases like "Disobeying God causes disease," and it would mean as much to th

      • It really depends on what you mean by "understand". By my reading, your definition of the term is somewhere around a BS degree in genetics or molecular biology.

        I'm pretty certain that most high school students and even reasonably intelligent middle schoolers can come to an understanding of concepts like AT, CG pairs, that DNA gets packaged in chromosomes and gets copied when cells divide, central dogma (DNA -> mRNA -> protein), etc.

        • by nbauman (624611)

          True story: A kindergarten teacher took her children for a walk in the woods. They saw a woodpecker for the first time. One of the children said, "Oh, it's eating insects." That's learning science. They observed the world and formed a hypothesis.

          Showing kids videos of AT and CG pairs, etc., isn't looking at the real world. They're learning about pictures of AT and CG pairs. Or maybe they see plastic AT and CG pairs, like a museum exhibit I saw. But they don't actually see AT and CG pairs. They have no way o

    • by ledow (319597)

      Exactly. In five minutes, I could have taught them that phrase, with a pretty picture, and they would know it to the same depth.

      Five minutes of directed education therefore would be superior to months this "undirected" education.

      Children, by default, have a huge desire to learn. But it will be focused on precisely the things that cause them to fail in later life unless directed. And dulling the enthusiasm is most easily achieved by NOT USING THE KNOWLEDGE or NOT LEARNING for a while.

      If you want to see wh

  • by Harvey Manfrenjenson (1610637) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:48PM (#43030759)

    From the summary: "One of Mitra's main points is that given resources and a question to ponder, children will learn on their own. Interference and too much direction gets in the way of that."

    Well, great. Nobody explained that to the inner-city teenagers I deal with in my clinic. Just about all of them have access to the full resources of the Internet, either at home or down the street at the library. And they are wonderfully free from the evils of "interference and too much direction".

    Their general fund of knowledge is shockingly limited. Many of them can't find Europe on a map. A remarkable number of them can't name a single city outside of the United States/Mexico. They struggle with basic arithmetic and reading comprehension.

    If you want to see how well-educated a child becomes when you give him "resources" and no direction, just look around you.

    • by nbauman (624611)

      Interference and direction like explaining the scientific method.

      Or how to use the library.

    • A remarkable number of them can't name a single city outside of the United States/Mexico.

      I don't think rote learning is what should be tested for, but true understanding. Much of this knowledge simply isn't that important and will be forgotten over time anyway.

  • DNA? I'm skeptical (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nbauman (624611) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:10PM (#43031229) Homepage Journal

    He went to a tiny village in India and put a computer there with software about DNA replication (in English, even though they did not speak or read English). When he came back months later, a group of young children said, 'We don't understand anything — except that mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases.'

    I don't believe it. Young children can't understand DNA -- or even molecules. I particularly don't believe that young children from a rural village in India could understand anything meaningful about DNA. You might be able to teach them to parrot phrases like "mistakes in DNA replication cause diseases" if you repeated it to them a lot. But they won't understand what they're talking about. You could just as easily teach them to say, "Disobeying God causes diseases." It certainly has nothing to do with teaching science.

    I did some research into elementary and high school science education, and read what the teachers with hands-on experience said. A friend of mine had lots of stories about how he taught science in the Peace Corps in Africa.

    Surprisingly, even high school kids have a difficult time with science concepts that seem to be simple and basic -- for example, molecules.

    Think about it. Science is hands-on. The main lesson of science is that you make a hypothesis, and then test the hypothesis against the real world to see if your hypothesis actually works. How can you demonstrate to a high school student that molecules exist? I read in my history of science books the saga of how chemists finally figured out and proved what molecules and atoms were, starting in about the 18th century. It's a great story. It would be very difficult for high school students to replicate those experiments, and even more difficult to understand what they were doing. We don't have mercury barometers any more. How do you prove that atoms and molecules really exist? In my niece's middle school science class, it was an appeal to authority -- the book says so.

    I was particularly interested in the efforts to teach elementary school students about DNA. What's the point? You're not demonstrating the existence of DNA or genes to them. You're not showing them anything in the real, testable world. You're just showing them pictures and animations. The Harry Potter movies also have animations. Why should they believe your animations any more than Harry Potter movies? Or creationist Bible movies? The American Museum of Natural History had a show on DNA. They had exhibits for children demonstrating DNA. I asked the kids to explain it -- and they couldn't do it. They had a big, colorful, impressive exhibit for kids on DNA, and none of the kids understood it. Although you could get a grant for it.

    In the world of pundits and foundation grants, there are lots of people who make extravagant claims about what their thing can do, their technical trick or their computers.

    There are lots of things about science that you can teach kids, hands-on, starting as young as 3 years old. Seymour Simon http://www.seymoursimon.com/ [seymoursimon.com] had books for 4-year-olds that taught them how to discover for themselves principles of engineering using paper and clay to build arches. Science teachers take their kids out into the woods -- or a vacant lot -- and show them what you can find there.

    But teaching rural Indian children to understand anything about DNA? With materials in a language they don't understand? I don't believe it.

    • by Cato (8296)

      I listened to Sugata Mitra talk for an hour about his approach, and his story is quite true. Listen to his TED talks before you are so quick to say he's wrong.

    • by Whorhay (1319089)

      The language barrier I understand being skeptical of, but what is so complicated about the basic idea of how DNA functions? I know that I've already talked to my 3 1/2 year old daughter about it a couple of times. I'm not explaining the various ammio acids and how it is replicated and activated. But she's plenty smart enough to understand that it is a set of instructions for how tiny parts of her body called cells should develop and interact.

      • by nbauman (624611)

        I taught my 5-year-old niece about T cells and B cells too, but I didn't think she really knew what was going on. It was like teaching her about Punch and Judy. I don't think kids her age were capable of making the link between T/B cells and sickness.

        How does she know that cells exist? Did you show her cells under a microscope? And if you did, would she understand what she was seeing under a microscope? I look at photographs of pathology slides, and sometimes I can't figure out what's going on, even with a

        • by Whorhay (1319089)

          I think she understands cells in a very abstract way. She has illustrations and pictures of them in one of her favorite books, a childrens encyclopedia for the human body. It isn't necessary for her at this point to understand anything more than the abstracts for these things though to understand that damaged DNA can cause problems.

          • by nbauman (624611)

            I encourage you to teach your daughter as much about biology and science as she can understand. It would help if she's already heard the term "DNA" early on so that when she comes across it again, with a jumble of other terms, it will at least be familiar.

            I'm sure there are 3-year-old children where both parents are scientists http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2899#comic [smbc-comics.com] and talk about biology over the dinner table. They would have a better understanding of DNA than normal children.

            Howev

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