Do we need teachers anymore? A Sugata Mitra experiment with Year 8

This week I attended the South West Grid for Learning conference and heard Sugata Mitra talk. Sugata pioneered the “Hole in the Wall” computer project in India, providing computers to slums, where he has shown that without teacher supervision children are able to learn using the internet. This project led him to coin the term Minimally Invasive Education and he has shown in subsequent projects that given the right environment children are able to learn anything with the internet and without a teacher (NB: this is my summary of his theory, please watch the video below to understand the full subtleties!)

I found this hugely inspiring so decided I would today do my own Sugata style experiment with Year 8 (especially as I was bored with the current Inudstrial Change unit!). Here’s my lesson plan:

Starter: Show the students the section of the above video about the Kalikuppam Experiment (at 7 minutes in) to grab their attention. I then explained how Sugata believes you don’t need teachers (they loved this bit!)

1. Students got into groups of four and were given one computer per group (Sugata believes this is important as it encourages debate rather than them working in isolation and learning less)
2. Teacher introduction. I explained that today I didn’t want the students to write unless they wanted to, they just had to discuss the questions and learn! (NB: Some did do some writing, but most chose not to)
3. Each group navigated to a pre-produced GoogleDoc ( where they were presented with the rules and questions. As the groups worked I added more questions to the doc (which they all enjoyed even more as it appeared by “magic” to them.) The questions were difficult for a 12 year old and for many I didn’t necessarily know the answer myself but ensured they were linked in to the topic and directly led to them gaining knowledge before visiting Big Pit next week.
4. Occasional whole class mini-plenaries were given to establish what had been learnt so far

Plenary: How much have we learnt and was Sugata right?
Class discussion

So how did it go? In one word, wow! This afternoon was probably one of the best lessons I have taught this year with the least amount of actual “teaching” done. With one group I had an in-depth discussion of trade unionism (linked to the recent trade union teacher strikes), another group discussed the merits of Thatcher vs Scargill and another discussed the merits of capitalism and whether it was right to import foreign coal. In 50 minutes I had better quality discussions with students than I have had all year without teaching them a thing. The plenary discussion was hugely detailed and heated with students passionate about what they had learnt. I only wish I had taped it and stuck a section of it on this blog. On the downside two students were disengaged, but this is quite normal for my lessons (!) and I might need to rethink some strategies for them.

The most interesting part of the lesson, however, was the plenary question about whether the students thought Sugata was right that they could learn independently. Most agreed that he was right and were proud to prove him correct. A few did though say that they thought this would not work permanently as they aren’t motivated enough and they like variety. In this they are correct, but, as an introduction to a scheme or work or for a change of lesson this was such a fabulous lesson and I can’t recommend it more highly. In the future it seems teachers might be needed occasionally after all!

If you try the above please let me know!


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6 Responses to Do we need teachers anymore? A Sugata Mitra experiment with Year 8

  1. edjitraining says:

    I’d seen Sugata Mitra’s vid before and found it astonishing. Your description of the lesson is elecrtifying. I understand why you were so enthused.
    I take from this that although the self motivated learning is not a magic silver bullet (I guess there just isn’t one), it’s a vital part of the mix. Nice one.

  2. herrn96 says:

    Nice writeup! Disappointed I couldn’t pop in. Enjoyed having a chat with you about this earlier today. These are the questions that stuck in my mind:
    1. What’s the outcome of next lesson going to be, and how will you deliver it?
    2. How do you sustain it? The ‘grannies’ idea makes some sense in gently encouraging students…
    3. Is there scope to make the outcome more empathetic? You are visiting Big Pit with this class, and they will be talking with people who experienced the strike: wouldn’t one powerful outcome be to be able to ask a meaningful, well-informed question of the people they meet in Big Pit?

  3. David Didau says:

    Wow indeed. I watched this TED at the week end and was pretty impressed. Thanks for leading the way. Will try this in sept

  4. cathy williams says:

    I tried something very similar with my year 8s, also using Sutagata as a hook at the suggestion of my HOD. My students are used to enquiry based learning where they answer a big question in any way they see fit. What differed with this was that I made the outcome much narrower. Students had to be able to define Gothic literature, give classic and modern examples of Gothic texts and be able to list ingredients of a Gothic story. One rule I set was that they had to share what they’d learned if another group asked them directly. This was great as it meant that all the knowledge they gained was shared quickly and that they soon spotted mistakes. I was really impressed with the depth of understanding students gained in so short a time

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