Teachers should not be guides or experts, just 'friends'

13th April 2014 at 09:00

With the wealth of human knowledge now available on the internet, the time has come for teachers to stop acting as experts and instead just be children's "friends", a leading educationalist has said.

Speaking to the Oppi learning festival in Helsinki, Finland, this weekend, Professor Sugata Mitra – who won the prestigious 2013 TED prize – said that teachers need to adapt to a new era.

When asked to describe what the role of a teacher, he said: “Not a guide, not an expert, just a friend. This is no longer the century where we can say ‘I know best what you should do, just listen to me’. That time has gone.”

The Newcastle University professor (pictured), famous for his 1999 ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment, in which he installed an internet-connected, child-height computer in the wall of a Delhi slum, wants to build a "school in the cloud" where children can learn from one another.

“Children with access to the internet can actually learn most things by themselves,” he told the conference via video-link. “But then somebody has to tell them what to learn and generate their interest in learning about a particular thing. That’s where the teacher comes in.”

While the two-day festival was dominated by discussions of the future role of technology in learning, few speakers advocated such extreme measures as Professor Mitra.

Peter Vesterbacka, of Finnish tech firm Rovio, creator of the Angry Birds games, said schools would have to catch up to developments technology, and soon.

“If you look at education, the big picture hasn’t changed at all since we started printing books,” he said.

“It can’t be that schools are years behind the technology that kids are using at home. It’s going to get into the classroom one way or another.”

Other speakers were more enthusiastic about the continued need for both schools and teachers, whatever the future holds.

Sarah Brown, the wife of former British prime minister Gordon Brown, and co-founder of the A World at School initiative, said: “Schools may change, but there will always be a real role for teachers.”

And global youth ambassador Lisa Goronga from the UK offered the ultimate reassurance to delegates that their jobs are safe for a little while longer.

“School is not an outdated concept at all,” she said. “It’s pretty fantastic.”

 Read Tom Bennett’s blog on day one of Oppi.

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