Can Kids Teach Themselves?

It’s a bit more than 15 minutes long but you should watch it, it’s really impressive :)

Found by Techniker

Education scientist Sugata Mitra tackles one of the greatest problems of education — the best teachers and schools don’t exist where they’re needed most. In a series of real-life experiments from New Delhi to South Africa to Italy, he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and saw results that could revolutionize how we think about teaching.


28 thoughts on “Can Kids Teach Themselves?”

  1. I love the TED Talks! I have leaned so much by watching videos of the speakers. This one is proof that all my teachers in school were wrong, because I have learned more out of school then in it.

    1. That’s why this program is so remarkable; it integrates the knowledge available from the Net with the innate problem solving abilities of children, without the interference and interface of a traditional teacher.

      Your statement is poignant…when in school if I asked more about a particular topic, I was always told, “There’s not enough time”, or “It would be distracting to the other students”. Now with the information out there, this program weaves the quest for knowledge with the Net. The possibilities of course, are now limitless.

    2. @NATEX: “I have leaned so much by watching videos … ”

      Which way have you [leaned]? Left, right, front, back? Maybe all of your teachers weren’t wrong?

      1. ain’t ejukashun wunderfull! One handed typing never works well. There was a Yorkshire Terrier on my lap trying to wash my face.

  2. Phenomenal….the human brain in children is the real hero here. Rarely is it ever tapped to its true & full potential. This is a way to tap all the information on the Net with a remarkable, new teaching program. In the ‘groups’ he’s talking about boys for example, can finally seek their innate potential without the total bias of a teacher who may hold them back, or inhibit their learning process.

    It’s always been a fact that if kids can learn at their own pace, fed by success, the pace exceeds traditional teaching exponentially.

    A lot of teachers will take great offense at this program, but hopefully, many more will want to know the details. I wanna be a ‘Granny cloud’, but more appropriately a ‘Grandpaw cloud’…….

  3. This is a very interesting video. Of course using computers to attract young children is so basic — they naturally gravitate towards them because of the imagery. Which is a good way to get their curiosities peaked if that area doesn’t have enough schools and/or teachers in the conventional way.

    I have known for decades that interest in something always spurns curiosity and then knowledge, which in itself, is quite basic to the human mind.

  4. What a great service you have performed by posting this video. As a former career educator, I realized early on that interest and motivation were the keys to educating. Sadly in the USA at any rate, teachers are no longer allowed to use creativity – they must teach to a test.

    This video demonstrates that children will learn based upon interest or a challenge. The computer is a vehicle that allows kids to pursue their interests. But it is readily apparent in the video that there is outside intervention because as the study progressed, questions were asked thus guiding the direction of the children’s use of the computer. So it appears the role of the teacher should be more of a motivator, asking questions, generating interest and then getting out of the way except for regularly throwing “attaboys” (Grannie Cloud) at the learners.

    Thanks again for an awesome blog that goes way beyond the norm for a site designed simply to appreciate the beauty of the young male.

    1. “So it appears the role of the teacher should be more of a motivator, asking questions, generating interest and then getting out of the way except for regularly throwing “attaboys” (Grannie Cloud) at the learners.”

      Yeah, so what happened along the way….shared mediocrity in teaching methods?

      1. What happened along the way was:

        Measuring teacher and student success based only on test scores.

        Forcing teachers to teach to the test. Stay in the box! In other words forced mediocrity in teaching methods.

        Teachers unions protecting poor teachers and shortening the number of years it takes to gain tenure.

        Mainstreaming special education students.

        Legislators (not educators) shoving educational reform (a new reform every four years generally) down the school’s throat and not allowing time for the last reform to work. (The analogy that comes to mind would be allowing your mayor to determine your medical treatment!)

        And perhaps most controversial, spending billions to bring dumb kids up to par (which we can’t because of lack of support at home and reverse Darwinism) and not spending much of anything on the best and the brightest.

        There’s more but I’ll stop.

  5. Another example of why we should stop treating kids, and especially adolescents as mental retards, but as conscious, responsible persons who just need a guiding hand, not a prison of repressive limitations.

  6. Very interesting. I’ve long thought that our education system slows students down, some to absolute boredom. I’ve even taught specialized classes over the years and discovered that children learn out of their own interest and curiosity. I had not heard of this site. Thanks a lot.

  7. My professors use these TED talks a lot in class. I love them! They make people think, bring new possibilities and ideas to people’s ears. It is so wonderful to see people doing things like this. Instead of continuously saying, “there are no good teachers in X, Y, Z, let’s make a difference and do something to change this. He has hope, he has a vision and I find it extraordinary.

    Thanks for sharing this Josh :) People need to see things like this more often, even if they only read the description.

  8. This is how I learned programming. Coding. Making software.
    There was this shop/supermarket/warehouse. They wanted to sell this home computer, the Commodore 64, so they put one there, turned on, for everyone accessible, so you could try it for yourself.
    And that everyone was a boy, all of the time. Every time I went there, there was a boy, with other boys watching.
    Not always the same boy, but always a boy like 13, neat, nice to see, pretty.
    So I came back there often.
    I was 20 or something, then.
    I saw things like

    10 PRINT “HI”
    20 GOTO 10

    first, but saw several nice peeks and pokes later on.
    This was learning in a group, all children (ok, I was an exception maybe), without teacher.
    I’ve made a job out of it. In an international company. As software engineer.
    Without teacher.

  9. Maria Montessori came up with basically the same idea, that kids can and want to teach themselves, about a hundred years ago. Unfortunately there were no internets at that time.

  10. This is simply incredible. I remember reading Alvin Toffler’s book “Future Shock” when I was in the 7th grade. Everything he wrote has come to pass. I’m still like a kid in the candy store with my laptop.

  11. It’s concerning, though I guess not really surprising, how many readers found this video inspiring or awesome or amazing or whatever. It’s a clear indicator of what’s happening, and what has been happening in our schools for a very long time: the perpetuation of ineffective teachers through poor modeling. People can blame education reform or whatever else all they like, but the reality is that the teaching profession does not, and will likely never attract the type of people we need to really make a difference to teaching and learning.

    Education is a difficult area of discussion, because everyone has an opinion about what is right or wrong, whether they have any knowledge of educational theory or not. Just because you’ve driven over a bridge every day through your childhood, would you tell the engineer how to build it?

    We need to teach children how to teach themselves; how to discover and develop their own understanding of learning processes. There’s an age old adage that says something about giving a man a fish, yeah? This type of thinking isn’t new.

    This video isn’t specifically about 1st world kids – though much of the content can be applied to our context. It’s about how we can bring this model of education to the places where it’s needed.

    But in any context, it isn’t about kids learning about pythagoras or genetics – it’s about kids learning to use the internet to expand their knowledge. Is this knowledge useful? questionable. Is being able to discover and develop new knowledge through the use of the internet useful? yes – provided access to the internet continues.

    Despite his comments stating otherwise – teacher (call it what you will, facilitator, mentor, granny cloud) intervention is important. I’ve run similar experiments, though put children in front of the internet and left them to it to see what happens. Inevitably, games happen.

    The video raises some interesting ideas and illustrates the potential we have to make a difference where it’s needed. It isn’t groundbreaking – but perhaps TED is the vehicle the ideas need to gain some traction in the world.


    1. I don’t think the point in the vid was ever to replace a teacher/mentor/granny etc. Nor was the point to let children find the Net and self-educate themselves.

      However, if you combine the teacher/mentor/granny with the Net and let children pace themselves… you’ve got a ‘revolution’ in educating techniques.

  12. This is amazing, though not so surprising. The traditional education environment creates a mental state that is exactly anti-conducive to learning. Infants don’t learn to walk or talk because they’re really goal oriented. They learn because it’s fun. Walking is a really cool new thing to be able to do with one’s body, and that is inherently and intensely pleasurable.

    The kind of emotional state that provides for optimal learning doesn’t change as we progress into childhood and adulthood. So it’s really stupid to create an ‘educational’ environment in which children are constantly tested and ranked. By taking the fun out of learning, we’ve literally hobbled the process of learning.

    I’m reading a really great book about this right now called “The Lives of Children” by George Dennison. I would definitely recommend it…

  13. WOW!!! As someone who has worked with children in school since 1979, I was floored. In some ways, it reminds me of the “Montessori” method used by some schools, but with a new technological twist. In some ways I love how this new idea seems to work, and in some ways I’d be afraid to let it take over. However, as an added part of the the teaching methods used today, I’m sure it would be extremely beneficial to the kids.

  14. Of course can kids teach themselves – they always did. The only question that remains is weather the things they teach to themselves are of use.
    How many kids owning a computer do understand it good enogh to write even a small program?

    An Engeneer is somebody able to build a car – even thogh an engeneer would be able to drive a car, too – the ability to drive a car makes not an engeneer.

    1. @Patrik97:
      “How many kids owning a computer do understand it [good enogh] to write even a small program?”

      WRITE even a small program??? Hold your horses (at least for 98% of all the youth that’s even been near a keyboard)! We’re lucky just to get them to write fully worded sentences in e-mails, text messaging, and even comments such as these (not to mention using any type spell-checking). At this rate, writing even a sub-routine in BASIC would take another 5 years of basic education. Writing in ANY computer language requires exact syntax of that language.

      We need to get them off the hitch-hiking lazy road and get them to learn to ride a bike. With all the free and nearly free rather sophisticated programs they can get now, there’s very little impetus for any of our youth to do any “programming,” except of course, for some selfish idiots to write (or patch) some virus to spread all over and crash everyone’s hard work.

  15. Your comment is on target Patrik97 – and I assume English is not your primary language so the context is what is important. What is happening in the video – in ancient professional educator terminology is called “anticipatory set” which means that a “hook” has been set to capture the interest of the learner and motivate him/her to delve more deeply into the subject matter. At that point a teacher, mentor or Granny cloud can step in and direct (not demand) further progress. Thus, because of my own interest, I go from driving the car to building it!

    That is what education should be.

  16. I finally, after 20 plus years of developing systems, went and got a Master of Science in Computer Science. Some of the classes covered old material, some were new. Most of the other students were much younger than I was. I didn’t have the time or money for the degree when I was younger so I had to teach myself, and essentially learn a new way of doing things nearly every four years. Education never stops if you want to continue to grow.

  17. But what kind of learning has happened when the Italian students at the end of the video copied the word “Pythagoras” from the board and typed it into google – bringing up a page with a right angled triangle?

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