Thursday, 8 November 2012

Trust in Learning

Remember a few years ago when Sugata Mitra did his TED talk about the “Hole in the Wall” experiments? I blogged about it HERE and you can see the YouTube clip of it here:

Well, the One Laptop Per Child Project took it to another step (If you don’t know about the OLPC project, check it out).

They gave out one thousand tablet PCs to children in remote villages in Ethiopia – children who had no access to schools, and many of whom lived in an environment of total illiteracy; no exposure to printed language whatsoever, and most definitely not English.

But rather than giving the children lessons in how to use their computers, the OLPC folk just left the computers in their boxes, without any instruction whatsoever.

Here’s a quote from a report on it (you can read the full one HERE):

But that's not what OLPC did. They just left the boxes there, sealed up, containing one tablet for every kid in each of the villages (nearly a thousand tablets in total), pre-loaded with a custom English-language operating system and SD cards with tracking software on them to record how the tablets were used. Here's how it went down, as related by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Technology Review's EmTech conference last week:

"We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He'd never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android."

That’s right – children who had never even seen printed words were just given sealed boxes containing computers loaded with an English-language operating system worked out, totally on their own, not only how to use computers, but how to speak English, run apps and hack the Android OS to make the built-in cameras work.

Because children have an inherent ability to learn. Trust in them, don’t inhibit their love of learning. Enrich their lives with learning experiences, but most of all trust that they will learn.

If this doesn’t blow your mind, you probably haven’t paid attention.


  1. They will long as they are given the freedom to learn. Our girls started hating school (this is when we pulled them out to homeschool) as they were told to shush. If they questioned their teachers they were naughty. If they wanted to read longer than their allocated 10 minutes they were disruptive. If they finished the work too easily they were smart asses. It took almost a year of detoxing from school for my eldest to let go, to start to question and trust herself again.

    But back to the point of your amazing story (I can't wait to read more about that). When we pulled all our girls out of school our twins had only been attending school for 5 months. Our two eldest had formal reading and writing lessons, but our twinnies hadn't been "taught" any thing. While I spent months researching how to teach kids to read they taught themselves and were reading kids novels 3 months after leaving school. With no "formal" writing instruction our 8yo twins have embarked on NaNoWriMo (national novel writers month) and in 5 days have written almost a 1000 words in the novel. ids want to learn. They also want to connect, express themselves and share their knowledge. Freedom really does amazing things.

    ps - the girls loved meeting your lovely daughter and had a great day!

    1. thanks so much for the beautiful comment :) and wonderful story!

  2. That was a brilliant article - thanks so much for sharing it.

    I was actually labelled a 'pushy' mum because my 4 year old started school able to read fairly advanced books. People used to ask how I taught her to read, and never believed me when I told them I didn't teach her - I gave her the tools (books)- and she worked it out.

    Whereas my younger daughter (now age 5) still shows very little interest in learning to read. I however am totally fine with that, because I know she will learn when she is ready, and not when some 'specialist' (who has never actually met her) says she should.


Thanks for your lovely words, witty banter and entertaining discussion :)