Let's say you had a group of impoverished kids, living on about $1.00 (US) per day, and barely literate. Could they teach themselves how to operate a computer?
In 1999, Dr. Sugata Mitra placed a computer with a high speed Internet connection in a hole in a slum wall and left it there to be used, unsupervised, by children. What do you think happened?
20,000 school principals had told Dr. Mitra that this type of experiment would yield nothing. Yet, after replicating the experiment in slums throughout India and Cambodia, reaching over 40,000 children by 2004, in 2005, Dr. Mitra received India's highest award for Innovation in Information Technology, the Dewang Mehta Award.
Yes, the children taught themselves how to use a mouse, how to click on a link, how to find web sites:
We were watching on the surveillance camera. We noticed that one child would experiment with the mouse and by trial and error discover that by pressing down on a folder, a new icon would come up. He would then tell his friends of his discovery. They would then try it out. Another one would discover something else and pass on that information, and very soon the whole group knew how it worked. The best part of this experiment was that, despite the fact that the games and links on our computer were all in English, the children figured it out. It took them a little time to grasp the links between the icons and what they could do with it. We then tried out the same experiment in Shivpuri (MP) and Madantusi (UP) to see whether the same premise held for different geographical locations and cultural backgrounds.
We underestimate kids' abilities and desire to learn. We don't necessarily have to break down lesson plans, schedule every minute, assess, and remediate. Sometimes, all we need to do is give them the opportunity to unleash their curiosity.
This experiment was initially brought to my attention by the Guy Kawasaki's Signal Without Noise Blog.