Don't slam the Slumdog!
In early January I dared to criticise Slumdog Millionaire at a dinner, and got verbally lynched by several guests. These maulings have continued, and if you want to cause a lively argument at dinner or in the pub – slam into Slumdog. At the same time I posted a critical review of the film, interestingly, got some favourable comments about the film’s slum-porn and improbable plot, direct from India (such is the power of blogging).
E-learning inspired the story
It turns out that the inspiration for this film was Sugata Mitra’s fascinating ‘hole in the wall’ experiments. I met Sugata two years ago in Berlin, where I saw his superb presentation on computers placed in poor villages and slums in India.
Like me, Sugata Mitra told the original writer that he didn’t like the title and premise of the film and would have preferred a tale of escaping poverty through education, not the capricious and ridiculous idea of fate and a western quiz show, “that kind of plot would have been more in the spirit of my hole-in-the-wall project”. What Mitra didn't like was the celebrity culture promise of escape through luck and fame.
Mitra simply put these things in walls and let the kids get on with it, and the results are spectacular. They don’t vandalise the computers and quickly learn how to navigate and then learn English, maths and other subjects. It sounds almost surreal, but he has the video evidence to back up his findings. Delhi now has 48 computers in walls and when he asked these poor children what they wanted to do with Skype, they asked for an English grandmother to read them stories. This has now happened. That's a real fairytale and is truly inspiring, as it presents real solutions and ideas, not some sort of Mamma Mia, quiz show, feelgood fantasy.
Technology is a liberating force in learning, especially when it is used outside of the classroom, in real world contexts. Give individuals the means to expand their own horizons and they do, even paying for the privilege. The majority of families and individuals in the developed world have paid relatively large sums from their own pockets to buy computers, internet access, mobiles and games consoles. This has led to a renaissance in communication, writing, exploration and curiosity. In the developed world we have just reached the point where the majority of people on the planet have a mobile phone. Yet education still adopts a siege mentality, keeping this stuff out side of the school, college and university gates. It’s people power that makes the difference and in the end it’s the consumer adoption of technology and content that has changed, and will continue to change, education.