What do you think about this approach to teaching?
I just heard about this project done by the non-profit One Laptop Per Child organization. They gave out laptops with leaning apps to each child in an Ethiopian village without giving them any instructions. The children figured out how to run the apps and gave indication that they are learning from them. The head of the organization, Nicholas Negroponte, is curious to know if the children will eventually be able to teach themselves to read.
My reaction is one of cautious optimism. I think that there is much that the children can teach themselves. I particularly like that they seem to be collaborating with one another. What happens when they get older and the novelty of the laptops wears off? There is a degree of self-discipline required for learning. Some children may have it, but I am skeptical if the majority do.
Suppose a single teacher were placed in the village. There are too many children to put them all in a single classroom. Instead, the teacher would be a resource, motivator and a coach. The teacher would answer questions and guide students in the right direction. It could be something as simple as saying that in order to learn one thing it will be necessary to learn something else. If there is sufficient interest, the teacher might give a lecture on a particular subject.
I feel a little uneasy about the idea that technology can solve everything and that we can eliminate humans from the equation. Technology should be viewed as a an aid to education, a way of multiplying the effectiveness of a given teacher.