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Archive for March, 2013

I am a big fan of the SOLEs and SOMEs. I should be… I see how they work, at very close quarters. That too in some of the most disadvantaged settings. Disadvantaged from every angle. Socio-economic poverty, intellectual poverty, abusive environments at home and at school, illiteracy, minimal resources, and educational settings that don’t really reach the children, specially those that need the help. You name it. I see children who are thrilled because they could finally read ‘one’ word in an ‘alien’ language that let them get into a game. I see them gradually opening up as they realize that they won’t get scolded or hit because they made a ‘mistake’. That turn to me with a wide grin to share their ‘success’.

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I have also seen the other end of the spectrum in the SOLEs. Children enthusiastically and competently searching for answers to ‘big questions’ and drawing rational, logical conclusions from it. Questions that are far ahead of what is expected of them in their school curriculum.

SIS HK Jan2011

Yet, no… not everyone of them is going to go to Yale like Arun Chavan. [Arun was really fortunate. He not only had the Hole -in-the-Wall, which opened up a whole new world for him, but he also had a very supportive and stimulating home environment that encouraged him to use that opportunity to its fullest and to make sense of all he discovered]. It’s the 3rd goal that Sugata talks about – Developing a rational belief system. It’s something that the emediators [The Granny Cloud] can help with in the SOLEs.

But what of the children who aren’t in Arun’s situation? What about when they have nothing.. or next to nothing? I think the SOLEs and SOMEs have a role to play here as well. Not just with Sugata’s 1st goal – Developing reading comprehension skills, and the 2nd one – Search & retrieval skills, but oddly enough, even with the 3rd one. The emediators [the ‘Grannies & Grandpas’] share a different world view; they hold out possibilities of a different world, provoke them to think of what else might happen. My Shahrukh can testify to that! Perhaps it won’t be as effective as a really good teacher/facilitator in a great school, but I am convinced by all that I have seen that it can make up for a whole lot that the children would not otherwise have had by way of stimulation, enrichment, and encouragement.

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In many of the responses, comments that I read these days related to Sugata’s work, I get the sense that people expect it to have a ‘uniform’ effect. That all the children who ever participated in a SOLE / SOME or even SOLE session will somehow, magically fly high. That they will all finish school with flying colours and go on to university and make an impact on the world. Is that feasible? Obviously not…each child will respond in their own unique way, to the extent they are capable of.

So some will go on to do great things and get famous. [I am waiting for Gauri among others, as well.] Some will go on to make a decent life for themselves and their families. Some will ‘not drop out of school’. And some, like my Swapnil, will have been touched and continue to watch from the periphery and dream of a life that can be different.

I think we can make a huge impact at a fraction of the cost if we can get the SOLE – SOME approach [emphasis… APPROACH] in place, irrespective of whether it’s a ‘stand alone’ SOLE, or a session in a supportive school facilitated by an encouraging teacher, a SOME [Granny Cloud] session organized by an NGO or even through homeschooling. We would be able to reach children who would otherwise be deprived of even basic educational facilities, and take to new heights those children who have the basics [and even a little more]. It is for ALL children.

So long as we can help each child achieve his or her potential.. whatever that might be, I’ll be happy. And while it may not be the only answer, we need initiatives like the SOLEs to reach these children in the first place!

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The days following the announcement of the TED 2013 prize to Sugata Mitra’s work on self organized learning environments have been interesting ones. There have been an overwhelming number of comments – some in awe, others critical, yet others unsure of what it all means… Many have already arrived at a conclusion about this work. Funny, that… considering that we are still figuring out so much of it!

The difficulty with folks drawing conclusions about an initiative based on a short presentation or article is that their perception of it often does not extend beyond the key ideas highlighted. Rarely is there a chance to go into all the experiences, the failures and successes, which went into arriving at those ideas. Hence ideas often appear too facile, one dimensional and inadequate to deal with the complexity of the situation.

This is true of the ‘conversation’ currently going on around the Hole in the Wall, the SOLEs [self organized learning environments], and the SOMEs [self organized mediation environments, better known as ‘The Granny Cloud’]. In a world that faces many new challenges, and a media that often seems hysterical and bent on showcasing all that’s terrible, I am more than ok with a focus on potential, on ‘what works’. Specially when it has to do with children’s education and learning. It is the hope for the future….

The way I look at it…. The TED Prize 2013 will provide a launch pad through which rigorous research related to the SOLEs & SOMEs can be undertaken. Hopefully, many other folks around the world will join in to add insight from their own experiences.

There are a few things though, that I’d like to reemphasize at the outset.

‘Literacy’ is indeed a big concern and whether children read through ‘books’ or on the internet might need to be based on what’s available [and at what cost], and in which locations. Technology isn’t a ‘bad’ word, you know!

Sugata talks of 3 key goals of education / learning. 1. Developing reading comprehension skills. 2. Developing search and retrieval skills and 3. Developing a rational belief system. Not all settings are functioning at levels 2 and 3. They cannot. The children in these more disadvantaged/remote settings cannot, at this point, read. They need to be able to read, and to read “discerningly”. There is work underway to see if, and how, reading fluency and comprehension skills can be acquired in self organized learning environments.

Not because teachers are obsolete – they most certainly aren’t! But because teachers and schools are not always available. [And certainly not ‘good’ teachers who will facilitate and encourage learning]. We need many, many such facilitators. Enter ‘The Granny Cloud’! Why should children, anywhere in the world, be deprived of a chance to learn? So ‘beaming in a Gran’ [and by the way, that includes grandpas, uncles aunts and so on] via skype is often the only enabling factor in the children’s lives. No, it doesn’t take care of all a child’s learning needs – but it does add to it tremendously. [And even more so in settings where there is nothing.]

So many of you out there are right.  One size does not fit all. We’d even like to see how the School in the Cloud might function in settings where there are children with special needs. I spend a fair amount of time with really disadvantaged settings and we are using the SOLE approach in those places too. And the results are promising. In any case, the SOLEs are not mean to be a panacea for all the shortfalls of our educational system. But it is an honest effort, with a huge potential, to make a difference to the way children learn, and how they will continue to be able to learn.

Children working at their own pace, in groups, challenging themselves, in collaboration with each other, in encouraging environments, preparing themselves to take on an unknown future… That’s what we hope for.

It’s a long road ahead [and while it’s not the only one], there’s enough data to show it’s worth trying out in a really big way. Won’t you join in? Image

Do visit us on our wiki [far from complete, but at least a bit more information should you want it]

www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com

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