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Can Virtual Teachers Plug the Educational Divide?


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Newcastle University professor of educational technology Sugata Mitra believes that introducing more technology to the classroom is the key to eliminating inadequate learning opportunities worldwide. "There will always be areas in the world where, for whatever reason, good schools and good teachers will not exist," Mitra says. "This problem is not going to go away or get better without intervention, therefore we need to be looking for alternative forms of teaching to ensure children do not miss out on a good standard of education."

Mitra's research began with an experiment that involved putting a computer with an Internet connection in an impoverished area in Dehli, India. In only a month, children with no prior knowledge of computers or English were computer literate. Mitra says the experiment shows that even without a teacher, creating an environment that stimulates curiosity enables children to teach themselves and share knowledge. He calls this process "minimally invasive education."

Mitra has taken the technique further by using Skype to bring teachers to schools in remote, inaccessible, or undesirable locations. Through Skype, for example, Mitra can teach a class in India's Hyderabad region from his office in the United Kingdom. A life-size image of the teacher is projected onto a wall in the school, which has proven to be an effective teaching technique, and teachers can interact with students in real time.

From Newcastle University
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