“If a teacher can be replaced by a machine, they should be.” – Arthur C. Clark
In 1999, Professor Sugata Mitra embedded a computer in a wall in a slum in New Dehli, connected it to high speed internet and left it there. Kids in the area, mesmerized by this technology, learn to use computers by themselves.
Over time his work has become famously referred to as the “Hole in the Wall Experiment.” He repeated this experiment in other parts of India and discovered how kids learn what they want to do.
His online videos of kids interacting with these computers have become the source of considerable discussion with one showing children recording music and playing it back for others only four hours after seeing the computer for the first time.
One experiment he did in Hyderabad, India involved asking kids who spoke English with a strong Telugu accent to use a voice recognition system on a computer. Since it didn’t recognize many of their words initially, he told them to speak so the computer could understand them. And then he left. When he returned two months later, their accents had changed and were closer to the neutral British accent required by the speech synthesizer.
In a conversation that Mitra had with the late Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke commented that, “If a teacher can be replaced with a machine, they should be.” And Clarke told him that a student’s interest is the most important thing in education.
Clarke instinctively knew that a student driven by their own curiosity will learn more, learn faster, and retain far more than when they are confronted with subjects of low interest.