Press Office


Children given the tools to teach themselves

A Newcastle University professor is using techniques he employed in India to help show British children a new way to learn.

Professor Sugata Mitra has worked for many years with his colleague Professor James Tooley to set up up self organised learning centres (SOLEs) or ‘holes-in the-wall’ in India. The project's success has inspired him to create a similar resource in the UK.

The result is iLAB:Learn, the University’s new centre of excellence in technology-enhanced education, which was launched on 8 March 2010.

“Groups of Indian children were able to organise their own lessons using a single computer through unsupervised access to the world wide web, albeit with a friendly mediator on hand if they needed help,” explained Professor Mitra. “When I tried a similar approach in Gateshead it worked even better, for the simple reason that English is their native language, so they don’t need to struggle to overcome that barrier before they can begin to learn from the web.”

Professor Mitra soon found several local schools that were interested in exploring how self organised learning worked in the classroom.

One school he has been visiting regularly over the past few months is St Aidan’s School in Gateshead, and they will be the first to test the new resource. The 10-year-olds, who have previously shown they can answer GCSE level questions unaided, will be given two hours to research Egypt using Google, with minimal intervention from staff. If they get stuck, they can use Skype to call a mediator.

“I’m not suggesting we do away with teachers – far from it – but maybe it’s time to look at how we can make best use of the teachers we’ve got, by using their talents more creatively and productively and letting children learn certain things their own way,” said Professor Mitra.

“Schools using SOLEs to complement their existing teaching are realising they have an immediate effect on the behaviour and the attainment levels of their pupils.”

Professor Mitra and Professor Tooley set up 12 SOLEs in underprivileged areas of India and have been observing the results for the last three years.

* An article based on this press release was published in The Guardian newspaper on 16 March 2010.

published on: 16 March 2012