What is the role of good teaching? Why does learning sometimes happen on its own? Is there something children cannot learn independently? These were some questions brought about by Saturday’s morning plenary talk at IATEFL – an international English language teachers’ conference. For foreign language learners, the debate which ensued can be quite inspiring. Let’s dive in, but be warned: strong opinions will follow.
1. So this is what happened first
Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013. His work and research involved children figuring things out seemingly without assistance – only by using computers built into walls and provided to them, and by relying on one another for help and guidance.
His TED talk, in which he accepts the TED Prize and outlines his TED wish, can be seen below:
2. And this is what happened today
Sugata was this Saturday’s plenary speaker at IATEFL 2014 in Harrogate. He walked into a room full of English language teachers and delivered this talk. It’s worth watching the whole hour – this is, in many ways, an update on Sugata’s project which started with the 2013 TED Prize.
3. Which made a lot of English teachers very angry
Clearly, when you ask about how learning can improve – and try to discuss the future of education – you’re becoming very unpopular. (Click images to enlarge. I took the liberty and censored sensitive information)
[EDIT: The critique has since moved beyond tweets and onto several blogs. Great stuff. I won’t find the time to post all the opposing views here but I’m keen for you to point them out to us in the comments below. Check out Mura Nava’s post on his blog, and Phillip Kerr’s analysis of the forces behind EdTech – just for starters.]
4. What language learners can learn from Sugata Mitra (a subjective list)
- Some things can be learned without teachers.
- Your mates, peers and friends can teach you something.
- By speaking, arguing and observing others, you can learn.
- You don’t need a teacher 100% of the time.
- You don’t need a syllabus 100% of the time.
- Good content and good peer network can only get you so far…
- …And somebody’s admiration, or just a few good questions, can get you a bit further…
- …but we still don’t know if this is enough to learn a language.
5. What language teachers can learn from Sugata Mitra (a subjective list)
- Don’t ignore the internet in your teaching.
- Prepare students for dealing with real problems, not for taking tests.
- Don’t expect all learning to involve teachers.
- Accept that things will be learned, used and misused outside the classroom.
- Recognize that there is some potential in teacherless, independent work on learners’ part.
- Don’t shy away from big questions.
6. Why I Believe That Sugata Mitra + Annoyed English Teachers = Result
This guy went all around the world with his projects. He spoke to hundreds of children, volunteers, teachers and researchers. He asked questions. He built stuff. He followed up on his project – his TED wish is now becoming a reality, one school after another.
There are still more questions than answers, but he inspired many people to look beyond “things as they’ve always been.” He’s not firing teachers, he’s not replacing schools forever. Sugata Mitra is finding things out, and asking questions.
If that annoys anyone, I’m glad. What’s the purpose of coming to a meeting if you’re not prepared to have your mind changed? What’s the point of sitting through a talk if you’re expecting to hear that the lessons you’re teaching are just fine, that the course books you’re publishing are doing a great job – that nothing will change at all? I can’t believe people come to conferences expecting this.
Questionable research? Go and find your own answers, then spread the word. Political sales pitch to get more tech in class? Figure out an open-source way to achieve the same results.
I’m hoping for the Annoyed English Teachers to engage with the questions posed by all of IATEFL this year. There’s plenty to be engaged with.
I’m just hoping for more than a few angry tweets. But actually, even those are a good start.