OUTdoctrination of INternational Education

The above TED Talk is very fascinating to me and probably anyone interested in how media affects education and vice versa.

First, Mitra talks about remoteness and the quality of education.  By remoteness, Mitra specifically means geographic location in relation to an urban center–slums, poorer, less developed areas in both economical and social terms.  From his tests, it was found that generally, “the remoter the school was, the worse its [standard test] results seemed to be.”  However, the results relate more to teacher motivation than it did to poverty levels, classroom size, or even infrastructure.

Then, Mitra relates these results to education and technology.  We are making the mistake of piloting new education technology (ET) in schools who already have strong teacher motivation and technology.  “ET would be far greater at the bottom of the pyramid than at the top, but we seem to be doing it the other way about,” Mitra says.  In many ways I think that the model he suggests is correct–we need to begin providing access or at least testing some new ET where the education/school system is weaker.  It would make a much greater impact than it would in private schools where technology and access is abundant.

The experiments that Mitra held in India in 1999 were conducted to find out “what an alternative education might be like”.  He went to various towns in India and embedded PCs into walls in public spaces, similar to the way an ATM is set up outside for the public’s use.  They left the PCs and soon enough there were children trying to figure out what the PCs were.  Incredibly, children slowly learned by self-teaching how to use the PCs.  One child taught another child, and by the end of the first day, there were 70 children who knew the basics of how to navigate the PC.

One of the conclusions Mitra came to during these experiments was that children in groups can self-instruct themselves to use computers and the Internet, and also the English language.  During his experiment in Madantusi, India, the children learned English when they discovered that the machine only communicated in English.  “Language is not a barrier,” Mitra says.

Overall, Mitra found that:

  • 6-13 year olds can self-instruct in a connected environment; if they have computer access, they will teach themselves
  • Over 300 children will become computer literate in six months with one computer
  • Children learn as much by watching as they learn by doing
  • Primary education, or at least parts of it, can happen on its own; it can be a self-organizing system
  • Children can self-organize and attain an educational perspective
  • Outdoctrination: “minimally invasive” form of education
  • SOLE; self-organizing learning environment

Mitra’s findings relate to the field of international education in a very direct way.  The international aspect in this type of education is in many ways the SOLE.  The social situations and events that expatriates find themselves involved in while abroad teach them about the culture that they are in.  International education students get first-hand experience, and like the children in Mitra’s experiments, learn as much by watching as they learn by doing.

For example, during my semester abroad in Spain, I learned some parts of the traditional Sevillana dance by watching followed by practicing.  In many cases, especially with media, people can learn and educate themselves just by watching.  What I think media does for international education in this sense is that it promotes it.  People learn from each other’s use of media, and people can also learn actions and opinions from what they find on media.

Social media in particular is a form of media where international educators or students can advocate for the field and share it with the world.  In the same way that Mitra suggests that over 300 students will become computer literate in six months, students can learn about international education much quicker as each one passes on the information that they have discovered.  Students who are friends with other students who go abroad are more exposed to the effects of study abroad.  They are also more likely to be encouraged to go abroad themselves.

The quality of education abroad can teach people more if teacher motivation is strong rather than if the education system is strong.  Learning about a specific culture while immersed in that culture with locals who are passionate about it will help students incredibly.  For me, learning about the city of Sevilla in Spain was more engaging and memorable while being in the city itself  than it was reading about the city during the pre-departure period of my time abroad.

Mitra suggests that the use of ET in schools where the education systems are weaker will have a much greater impact.  With the same idea applied to international education, I think that international education and global perspectives are needed in parts of the world where violence, racism, and cultural intolerance are dominant.

In conclusion, I think Sugata Mitra’s findings about SOLE and outdoctrination are very helpful in making sense of the ways that media affects international education.  We can say that the learning that occurs with media and internet use is incredible, and to add an international aspect to that can make it much more effective.

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