The idea of giving students access to the internet during their examinations may on the face of it sound counter-purposeful. If one thinks of today’s examination system, access to the internet would imply copying. Yet, Dr Sugata Mitra, who spoke at the D D Kosambi Festival of Ideas, on Wednesday, has revealed that his experiments have suggested that not only does a student’s eagerness to learn grow in leaps and bounds but that they can take themselves, if channeled and challenged in the right direction from zero literacy to the knowledge level of a secretary in a space of a few months.
His method was then applied to schools in UK, where five computers are placed in a classroom of 20 students who are asked a question like ‘How does DNA replicate’. With no teacher in the class, the students are forced to form groups and work together in figuring out how genetic material in the human body replicates by itself and draw up an explanation for the content available before them.
As radical as it may sound, Dr Mitra’s methods do make sense. With easy access to information, the biggest challenge for the future will be the ability to process that information for meaningful results.
Undoubtedly, when the country is still trying to raise its literacy level and mass education is the priority for government and policymakers, such initiatives may be a dream. At the same time, it would be a folly to dismiss Dr Mitra’s methods as impractical or wishful.
For a state that has boasted of having one of the highest cyber literacy among its young population, its initiatives are limited to the cyberage scheme which, at best can be described as ambitious but not well thought through.
The Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry in its pre-budget memorandum for the year 2014-15 told the government that since “there isn’t proper Infrastructure for providing proper IT education in the schools PCs and Tablets are not used to its potential. Instead of serving as an aid to education, these facilities are proving to be a distraction.” The GCCI was only reiterating a commonly held view. In other words, it’s the content that is provided that matters and not the device itself.
It is predicted that well organised content will soon replace teachers whose jobs will increasingly be taken over by technology. Apps that help you teach yourself skills, new languages and newer subjects are today more mainstream than ever.
One can only hope that the government officials sitting in the hall were listening.