Although I am a bit late, yet I do like to comment on Sugata Mitra's Plenary at IATEFL in Harrogate,http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-05/plenary-sugata-mitra. I watched his Presentation more than once. I wondered how should I feel?! Should I support him or what?!? Yet when I came to look at the big picture, I found great sense in what he said. I think Sugata stated his point of view or rather point of discussion right from the beginning when he said "How many good programmers am I missing because there is nobody to teach them and they can't afford to come and take these courses. So how is it going to help us as a nation to make this distinction between poor children and rich children".
I don't think -I am not trying to defend him for no reason- he wants to take the 'teachers our of the equation'. It is that his nation is full of educational problems that are too difficult to find solutions for over night or even years. Unfortunately, this is not India's problem alone, but most if not all of the Third World countries. To watch poor people suffer for no reason and live backwardly is not a simple thing to withstand!! Many times you'd like to do things to help, but wherever you start, you find more problems that need urgent solutions. Maybe that's what pushed Sugata to think of that solution, maybe one day, one or even few of those children would feel motivated enough to fight his way out to be a scientist in the future to help himself and his country as well.
This doesn't mean that I support Sugata's idea of discarding with schools and teachers, on the contrary children do need them, they need guidance. We need flexible systems that can help teachers to develop their skills and thus help students to get much better learning whether depending solely on technology or in part.
I had the pleasure of reading Jeremy Harmer's blog post on Sugata's plenary speech,http://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/angel-or-devil-the-strange-case-of-sugata-mitra/ and the comments of a number of persons including @Shelly Sanchez, Blogefl and Scott Thornbury. I do support Jeremy's opposition to discarding with teachers and schools as I mentioned before. Yet I do differ with his quote "His [Sugata's] well-rehearsed and extremely effective 'show' exists in TED-land, not in a discussion of teaching reality". I think Sugata just laid his points on the table and asked for a discussion. I think he tried to give us serious food for thought. He wanted to attract our attention to a serious problem that needed serious help and nobody is paying good attention to. I believe he wanted to say, 'if you had such a helpless situation what would you do?'.I think he is not discussing pedagogy as much as he is setting a situation at hand!!
Although Sugata started with provoking questions or rather statements, yet he came in the middle of his speech to say "We don't know if children can learn to read by themselves" "We don't know if children can learn to search accurately by themselves". He even recommended later that educational systems should be revised to include technology or internet search and thus enhance teacher training. He even ended his speech saying "When teachers are friends: curriculum, pedagogy and examinations can be rolled into one......". I don't think he is here discarding or 'bashing', to use Shelly Sanchez's word, teachers and schooling.
I agree with Shelly Sanchez that there are many problems concerning school systems, policies and the role of teachers there, yet we can't set technology aside and do our work alone. Technology has become part and parcel of many students' lives that we can't do without it. We can't depend on our skills alone to interest them in their studies -although this can be done solely quite well-. Technology can be a provoking tool that can help students develop their critical thinking skills and become better 'learners'.
I think that Sugata as Jeremy Harmer said pulled the trigger and left everybody arguing with and against him to tell the world here are the problems what can you do about them?!??