The importance of cheerleaders (and a message for teachers)

In 1999 the physicist Sugata Mitra went to Kalikkuppam, an impoverished village in southern India. He was doing an experiment to see if Tamil-speaking twelve-year-olds there could teach themselves biotechnology. . . in English. . . using only a computer program.

Mitra dropped off the program and left for two months. When he returned he tested the kids to see how much they’d learned. The kids scored an average of 30% — a remarkable result for having no formal schooling, but not good enough to pass an exam.

So Mitra asked an older girl in the village to provide encouragement to the kids while they studied: “Oh cool! Show me how that works. You really know a lot about this!”

Mitra tested the kids again two months later. Scores jumped to 50%, about the same results the best biotech high school students in New Delhi were getting.

Two conclusions:

  1. The method isn’t nearly as important as the motivation.
  2. Regardless of what field you work in, you’re a teacher. You don’t have clients or employees, you have students. The best teachers are exceptional cheerleaders.

(h/t to Peter Diamandis)

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