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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 5, No. 4 - July/August 2013

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Learning Innovations

By Rev. Dr. Kim Miller

This edition's theme of Learning Innovations and Technology has a lot of interest for me. I like technology and gadgets. I like pulling them apart and finding out how they work. I like the mental stimulus of understanding their hidden complexity. I especially like it when I can get them back together.

In my twenties I used to hot up and sell motorcycle motors for racing. My success came after a childhood littered with things taken apart and never reassembled. For an adult that litter might be seen as a series of failures. Luckily, childhood is less pressured. Or is that a thing of the past?

There is enormous pressure on kids these days - study hard, get the right answers, perform better, achieve more than other kids. I don't much like that sort of pressure, so here is a story about kids performing without pressure, just for the love of learning.

Sugata Mitra is an education researcher from New Delhi. In 1999 he cut a hole in a wall of his university that bordered a city slum and installed a computer. A bit like an ATM, it had a screen, a track pad, and an internet connection. He installed a hidden camera to record what happened and left it alone.

Children from the slum found it very quickly. With no experience with computers they had no idea what it did. To top it off, everything was in English. They quickly figured out how to make it work. They started to learn to read English, even teaching each other, and became competent so quickly that somebody suggested the kids had been coached by somebody from the university.

Mitra set up another unit in a remote rural village where there was no chance of a computer literate adult walking past. The village kids were as quick as the city kids. To step things up a little he asked himself, 'Can Tamil speaking children in South India learn the bio-technology of DNA replication in English by themselves from a street-side computer?'

He set up another remote village unit, loaded it with information on DNA replication, and left. Two months later he came back and asked the children what they had learned. One girl answered in self-taught English, 'Apart from finding out that improper DNA replication causes disease, we haven't really done anything else.' He was amazed.

Mitra asked the children to find an adult friend to help them. They turned up with a 22 year old who knew nothing of DNA technology. Mitra asked her to stand with the children simply to ask questions such as, 'Wow, how did you do that? When I was your age I knew nothing of these things. What did you do to get that information?' Mitra calls this his 'Granny Method' of education. Two months later Mitra returned to find that these street kids had caught up to the same level of bio-tech education as his control school in New Delhi, a wealthy school with a bio-technology teacher.

Mitra calls this system of education, SOLE - Self Organised Learning Environment. To further his vision to educate the world's children, even those without teachers, in February 2013 he was granted the TED prize of one million dollars. SOLE is based on children's natural sense of wonder and their ability to work together, even when, or especially when, they are left to their own devices.

Let's come back to the local scene. I recently published a book of disgusting poems for boys, full of words like snot and spew and fart. It's called 'Who's Who - Poo in the Zoo'. My Mum was a bit embarrassed. 'Where did all these ideas come from?' she asked. Easy, they came from the twelve year old boy inside me. That's because children are more open to new things, to new learning, to doing things differently, than adults are. For instance, ask your son or daughter to read this article and watch what happens.

So here we are in a magazine themed for Learning Innovations and Technology. Innovation might be found in computers and tablets and smart phones and apps, but the most innovative engine of all is the mind of a child. If we can somehow create space for self-directed exploration for our kids, what they will learn and what they will teach us is amazing.
Things we learn from Sugata Mitra

  • The goal of technology in education is education, not merely techno-proficiency
  • Education is sometimes specific, sometimes random
  • Great things flow from random discoveries
  • Learn something new & then teach it to another
  • Never criticise creativity

About Rev. Dr. Kim Miller

Rev. Dr. Kim Miller has been a prison chaplain for many years. People ask how he does it, but he reckons if you can get your kids through year nine you can be a prison chaplain. It's no surprise that his first novel "They Told Me I Had to Write This" is about a year nine boy in trouble.

Kim grew up in Condobolin, NSW. He started engineering at Wollongong Uni, swapped that for skydiving, motorcycle racing, rock climbing and all that guy stuff, then got married and went back to engineering. He later trained for the ministry of the Anglican Church which took him into prison chaplaincy.

He is married to Kay, has one adult son, and currently lives on the shores of Lake Macquarie NSW Australia.

More Information

Rev. Dr. Kim Miller
P: 02 5962 4774


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