Sugata Mitra: experience the world

Last week I was fortunate to participate in the TED conference in Long Beach.  I learned a ton and it sparked a lot of new thoughts for me, which I will be writing about here on the pages of metacool for the next few weeks. 

One of my favorite moments was this talk by education innovator Dr. Sugata Mitra.  It's his acceptance speech for this year's TED Prize.  From the standpoint of technique, I admire it for his masterful interweaving of humor, information, and narrative; for those interested in the art of public speaking, it's a master class. 

Of course, he didn't win the prize for being able to give a good speech, he won it for what he's accomplished and for his vision going forward, and I'll allow you to learn about those via his own words here:

Here's a particularly thought-provoking section of Mitra's talk:

Well, I bumped into this whole thing
completely by accident. I used to teach people how to write computer programs
in New Delhi, 14 years ago. And right next to where I used to work, there was a
slum. And I used to think, how on Earth are those kids ever going to learn to
write computer programs? Or should they not? At the same time, we also had lots
of parents, rich people, who had computers, and who used to tell me, "You
know, my son, I think he's gifted, because he does wonderful things with computers.
And my daughter — oh, surely she is extra-intelligent." And so on.

So I
suddenly figured that, how come all the rich people are having these
extraordinarily gifted children? What did the poor do wrong? I made
a hole in the boundary wall of the slum next to my office, and stuck a computer
inside it just to see what would happen if I gave a computer to children who
never would have one, didn't know any English, didn't know what the Internet

The children came running in. It was
three feet off the ground, and they said, "What is this?"

And I said, "Yeah, it's… I don't

They said, "Why have you put it

I said, "Just like that."

And they said, "Can we touch

I said, "If you wish to."

And I went away.

About eight hours
later, we found them browsing and teaching each other how to browse. So I said,
"Well that's impossible, because — How is it possible? They don't know

Of course, those kids knew "something" because they were willing to mess around with a computer and fail until they knew how to make it work.  Kids are ever open and curious.  They learned by doing.

What's striking about Dr. Mitra's life journey and his ensuring discoveries is that he's so deeply rooted in experiencing the world instead of talking about experiencing the world.  He is an expert on education, but is no mere theorizer.  He is a doer.  He had a hunch, and acted upon it by putting a computer in a hole in the wall.  He learned something from that experiment, and kept on trying new stuff.  Never just theorizing, always learning by doing.