Teachers or Learner Facilitators? (#MSLFM11)

Can we distinguish the ‘functions’ of a good teacher from the ‘form’ of a teacher (form vs function – a table has certain essential functions but can take many forms). If so, can the ‘functions’ of a teacher be delivered in ‘forms’ beyond what we usually conceive of as a ‘teacher’?

I recently visited some remote parts of India where teachers are scarce but mobile phone and Dish TV is common (which I think will also be true at many other places in the world). Thus, the importance of looking at different ‘forms’ that can be used to deliver the ‘functions’ of a teacher.

1. Parent as a Teacher

Parents are, usually, most concerned about their kids. Can the ‘functions’ of a teacher be imbibed by parents, especially in places where there is a paucity of teachers. What role can ubiquitously available technology play in helping parents become teachers?

2. Student as a Teacher

Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments have shown that kids can learn computer operations themselves, without any adult guidance. Mitra installed a computer in the boundary wall of his office in Delhi with a touch monitor facing outside. Outside the wall was a slum colony. Mitra connected the computer to internet and placed a hidden camera to record how the computer was being used. He observed that adults were the first people to come to the computer but lost interest as they could not figure out how to use it. However, kids under 8 years of age persisted, usually in groups of 6-8, where one was operating the computer and all the rest were guiding him/her. Kids developed their own vocabulary e.g. the cursor was ‘sui’ (hindi for needle) and the spinning sand-timepiece was ‘dumru’ (hindi for handheld drum). Very soon the kids got the hang of operating a computer. In later studies all across India, Mitra showed that simply putting content on the computer led the kids to learn that content. This experiment has been replicated successfully in many countries and is now a World Bank funded project. Can access to an enriched environment with lots of learning content and just a little guidance lead to self-learning?

3. Computer / Technology as a Teacher

‘You learn best when you teach’ notion led Papert and others at MIT Media Labs to collaborate with Lego to create the ‘Intelligent Lego Brick’ which is at the heart of Lego’s Mindstorm Robotic kits. The premise is that kids can easily teach (through simple visual programming tools) the Robots and in-turn learn themselves. A more recent MIT Media Labs initiative, Scratch, is an online storytelling tool where kids can create animations and multimedia content to narrate stories and build games. While these technologies may not be able to teach the 3Rs (initiatives like Khan Academy dispute even this) other skills like media literacy, communication etc, more relevant in today’s time can be learnt through technology.

I personally feel that the most essential ‘function’ of a teacher is to fire-up a ‘yearning to learn’ in their students and help the students ‘learn to self-learn’. In what all ‘forms’ can this essence of a teacher be made available to students, especially those who don’t have access to regular teachers?

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