What if you made learning difficult?

Learning and talent is all supposed to hinge on ease of instruction.
But what if you made learning difficult?
And what if there was no apparent benefit or payoff?

One Indian researcher ended up doing just that, quite by mistake
In the year 1999, Sugata Mitra occupied an office at NIIT (a computer-training institute that has trained over five million students). And his office overlooked an urban slum in New Delhi.

A wall separated the slum from the office
So Sugata and his colleagues made a hole in the wall, and placed a computer in that hole. The monitor and the touch pad faced the slum. And the computer had a decently fast connection and was connected to the Internet.

Then Sugata and his colleagues sat back and watched.

What would happen next?
About eight hours later, an eight year-old child and six year-old girl were browsing the Internet.

Now the browser was in English, and technically at least, the kids didn’t speak the language.

But what if they were somehow helped?
There they were browsing the Internet, but hey, this was an urban slum. It’s possible that they were helped by someone with an understanding of computers, and/or an understanding of the foreign language.

This experiment was bringing up more questions than answers
So Sugata headed off to Shivpuri. Now Shivpuri is reasonably remote in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

They put another computer in the wall, and it was found by a 13-year old school dropout.

Yet in eight minutes, having never seen a browser before, he was busy browsing. By the evening, over seventy (yes, seventy) kids had begun to browse (again with no prior knowledge of browsers).

By the year 2000, the experiment had gone one step further.

Sugata took the experiment to a village called Madantusi, near Lucknow, in India.

Now if you know India, even just a little bit, you’ll know that English is all pervasive. Yes, the accents and the pronunciation is a bit different, but you can make yourself understood in English.

Well, the village of Madantusi didn’t seem to have an English teacher at all.
And once again, the computer was placed in the wall, this time with CDs available. And no Internet connection.

And the computer was left there for three whole months.

When Sugata came back three months later he was amazed
The little kids turned to him and said they needed a faster processor. And a better mouse.

How did the kids learn what they needed?
Amazingly, though all the terms and the information was in English, the kids taught themselves to understand the ‘code’ of English.

The kids were now using over 200 English words in conversations with each other.
In fact, in many instances, when the computers were hooked up to the Internet, the kids would search for a website that would teach them the English alphabet.

Are you stunned?

You should be.

Not only was the concept of the computer alien to most of the kids.
But the language was the equivalent of you reading an unknown language, like Swahili.
And yet, the kids quickly worked it out.

So how did they work it out?
Were they more talented?

As it turns out, they were not.

The kids were just kids from the village, who’d found something interesting.

So how did they pick up this talent of browsing, finding websites, and speaking a foreign language?

You see, talent is a matter of understanding code.
If code is simple to follow, then you understand and apply it.
But as it turns out, even when things are difficult, the human brain is able to work things out.

So why do we not become as talented as we should be?
Parents. And teachers.

The people who believe that we’re born to do certain things.
And not other things.
The people who tell us that nature, and family and heritage determines talent.

Time and time again, these parents and teachers tell us who we are.
And what we should be doing.
And what we can’t do.

But as it turned out, in this experiment there was no parent. Or teacher.
The hole in the wall computer was manned only by curious kids, eager to learn.
And to teach each other the ‘code’.

And time and again, they succeeded, across the length and breadth of India.
No matter what the level of education, or language, or diversity. The experiment played out almost the same way time and time again. And a whole bunch of kids became magically talented.

Which makes you wonder, eh?
Are parents, and teachers, and our school system…who believe in talent, the factor that kill our talents?


Note: Watch the video below that details the experiment. If you’re reading this on email, you’ll have to go to https://brainaudit.com to watch the video. If you’re online, you can already see the video right under this line.

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