Education in the Developing world…

Quite recently I went to a public lecture organized by Insights at Newcastle University by Sir Michael Barber. It was candidly titled “Getting every child into school and learning; why wait?” and discussed exactly that question, using Punjab in Pakistan as a specific example.

While I agree with many of the things Sir Barber said in his speech regarding the importance of non-state schools, public private partnerships, and the importance of vouchers to allow parents, and ultimately students, to choose what school children go, there was one major aspect of his view on education that I did not agree with. It comes from a more pedagogical stand-point than an International Development context, but I still wonder why that is…

One man sort-of brought up my concern at the end of the lecture by asking about the definition of ‘education’. Throughout Barber’s talk, it seemed like he knew what ‘education’ was, and that he (and the local government) were ‘giving’ students what they thought was the best education. How do they go about finding out whether students were ‘learning’? They go and test the students on their native language, english and maths proficiency.

To me, that is not education.

To me, that is the ancient definition and understanding of education that has brought us into the twenty first century, and that is now the source of so many problems.

It is the 21st century! Computers are everywhere. Test answers are easily obtainable by a quick google search! There really is no more need for learning knowledge by heart…I do agree that there are basic things such as reading and writing that are absolutely necessary for learners to learn (that doesn’t mean they have to be taught that by teachers…but that’s a different debate), but testing maths, english, and native language proficiency is not the way of testing ‘learning’.

One statement that I felt was especially depricating to those out of the formal education systems was that ‘millions of children are not learning’ and we need to get them into school, so they can start learning. While Barber did say that getting them into schools was only the first step, and actually making sure they learnt at school was the second (more important) step, he does assume that school = learning.

I personally have a very big problem with a statement like that.

As was seen in my research regarding homelessness (here, here, here) or other looking at tumblr as a learning environment, it becomes very clear very quickly that learning doesn’t just happen at school! Are you not convinced? How did you LEARN to talk? communicate? social norms? Did you learn all that at school? Probably not…

A question I had for Sir Michael Barber, but sadly didn’t get the opportunity to ask him is the following:
If you say that the private sector is able to innovate, then why doesn’t it do so? Why does it advocate traditional rote learning in the 21st century, when you have the opportunity to leapfrog western educational history right into the 21st century reality of educational research from academics such as Sugata Mitra and Steve Wheeler? Why don’t you aid developing countries overtaking the west? Why don’t we allow them to compete on a global market? Make education skills rather thank knowledge based? We know that education in the west is outdated, so why are we introducing old methods into new systems?

The first peer reviews

I wrote previously about entering academia, and how I had turned my MA dissertation into a paper.

I turned my 80 page dissertation into a 10 page paper for a major conference. It’s quite a long shot, but

Aim for the moon, because if you miss you’ll still end up among the stars.


I still don’t really want to talk about the title or the conference as the reviewing process is still ongoing, but I’ll keep you updated.


Today the first rounds of reviews finished! I was so proud of even writing a paper that was in the right format and that an actual academic thought was worthy sending off to be reviewed, but now I’m even more proud.

The feedback I got was phenomenal! I did some things really well, but of course There were also a LOT points for improvement. Overall the various reviewers agreed that the topic was interesting and someone called my approach unique, and someone else even wonderful!

Having said that, there were also lots of little, and a couple of bigger, things that need to be changed before the paper will be considered to be published…

I just wanted to keep you updated on my progress into academia…and that I should probably stop differentiating between myself and the ‘real’ academics, as I am basically one of them now…although I still don’t quite understand how or when that happened.

SOLE central launch

On November 10th history was made. Sugata Mitra’s ideas of SOLEs and the School in the Cloud, as well as his 1 million dollar TED prize culminated in the opening of a new research centre at Newcastle University. Working at the same site as the launch, I had the privilege of not only attending, but working at the event.
I described what SOLEs are in a previous post, but the research centre is taking them in a slightly new direction. Here’s the press release the University wrote about the new centre. It does a really good job of describing exactly what the centre will do.
Initially, SOLEs were supposed to be a means of allowing children that had no access to school to learn in a more systematised environment, but as Sugata came to Newcastle he was contacted by schools. Since then he has worked with several schools in the North East of England, as well as rural areas in India to (help) build environments that are conducive to Self-organised learning.

The research centre itself is a new institution that was built on the grounds of previous research and contacts. Having said that, the presentations at the launch ended with a question for the academics, teachers, educational staff, businesses, etc.


How do you want to learn?
What do you want to learn?
and probably most importantly, how do you want to get involved?

Sticky-Note Extravaganza


I have talked about the amount of sticky-notes used in our classes, and the field of Human Computer Interaction in general before, but the class that I am going to talk about in this post reached a new level. I had said that the process was more important than the actual outcome, but only had pictures of the final product. This time, I thought ahead and took pictures of the entire process!

So, enjoy the crazyness, and embrace the messy. 

It all started like a lot of the classes we have. We self-organised into small groups and talked about the papers we had read the previous week. A slight change from previous weeks was that we didn’t have this set up:

Person A: talks about the papers
Person B: listens
Person C: takes notes

This week, we had the following set up:
15 min. to spend on talking about the 9 papers we read between each other in groups of three. We were to take notes on sticky-notes as the first pictures shows:



at the end of the 15 mins, we were to simply stick them on a large piece of paper, not clustering or really checking anything. For us, that turned into this:

IMG_0040We then switched papers with another group. We didn’t really know what the articles from the other group were about, and thus were asked to write notes on their poster as is show in the next picture. As you can see there are three open markers, that’s not because we’re horrible people that let markers dry out, but because we had to colour code our notes (yay!)

Red: something our previous discussion disagreed with
Green: something our previous discussion agreed with
Blue: something we wanted more information/clarification about


The next part allowed us to actually talk to the people whose poster we defaced. We tried to find a consensus between what we wrote on their sticky-notes and what they wrote on our sticky-notes. Ultimately, the goal was to create themes, categories, or clusters of both papers on a large piece of poster board. We didn’t get very far…we got quite caught up in deep discussions about social constructivism, thus not having too much to show on our big piece of card…to the dismay of the rest of the class.

IMG_0044 IMG_0045

While we were working on our poster, the other half of the class had gone through the same process on yet another bunch of articles. They were more efficient than us, although I have to say quite a bit more superficial. They did actually get the task done though…which we didn’t really.


It was now our turn to deface this poster! We had to make sense of what this poster said and then again use the red, green and blue marker to annotate the poster. Seeing as it was by now 4pm on a Friday afternoon, this did get a little strange…

IMG_0053 IMG_0054

Do you see what I meant with the PROCESS being more important than the OUTCOME?!

This is where the ultimate mess really only started though. It was now time to make sense of what our group, and the other group had written on each others posters. Instead of doing this in a presentation format as we had done previously, our teacher had us sort out the sticky-notes in complete silence. We were to come up with a maximum of 6 themes that would encompass ALL sticky-notes. We didn’t have to name the theme just yet, but we had to group all the sticky notes together. IN SILENCE.


But that’s not where it ended either! we now had to decide which of the 6 themes we thought was least important. Seeing as there were 10 of us, all from extremely different backgrounds, we obviously couldn’t decide. So, we were to stand next to the poster that we felt was most important. Easily enough, these were the new groups that we were to work in. This time, we had to name the theme and write down the most important points of it.


Finally, we quickly shared our thoughts through 1 min. presentations. Here are the final posters:

IMG_0067 IMG_0068

IMG_0066 IMG_0064

IMG_0065They’re still incredibly messy, but if anyone were to come into the room and see them, all they would probably take away was the text written on these five posters, thinking that that is exactly what Social Computing consists of. I think we did a pretty good job at catching the main themes of all the different readings we had to do, and that whoever read these short statements would at least get a basic understanding what it is.

So I guess the method worked…

What the heck are SOLEs?

The easiest, and probably best way of finding out what a SOLE is, is to watch Sugata Mitra‘s TED talks, so I’ve embedded them below. If however you don’t have an hour to listen to his three talks you can save them for later and continue to read below.

2007 Sugata Mitra: Shows How Kids Teach Themselves

2010 Sugata Mitra: The Child Driven Education

2013 Sugata Mitra: Build A School In The Cloud

So what actually are SOLEs? They’re the environment in which exploratory learning can take place. Wikipedia does a better deal of explaining it than me:

a place where children can work in groups, access the internet and other software, follow up on a class activity or project or take them where their interests lead them.

There are many examples on here, and a detailed description of one research project here.

Since 2013 the movement has kept going, and turned into the School in the Cloud. It’s a place to find out more about SOLEs, to learn from others’ experiences, get news, and almost most importantly getting involved!

You can download the toolkit, or use this wikihow to figure out how to devise your own SOLE!