Everywhere he goes, Sugata tests childrens’ limits with one aim in mind: to show there are really no limits on what they can achieve.
On his recent trip to Argentina, he put 6th grade students to the test at School 20 in the Barracas area to see if they could answer questions years ahead of their time. Similar challenges are being replicated all over the world, including at Greenfields SOLE lab in the UK last month.
SOLE Argentina has been piloting the SOLE approach at this location for just over four months, with the support of Buenos Aires’ Ministry of Education. So far, they have worked mainly on Big Questions linked into the curriculum.
On this occasion, Sugata took them to the next level by giving the children a question five or six years ahead of their time, similar to those required for university entrance courses.
This was the question: What is Fordism? Talk about this system and explain the causes of its decline.
No sugar-coating, no simplification of the language, no indication of any sources they should consult. And of course, Sugata’s standard tease: “This question is generally answered by 18-year-olds. Do you think you can answer it too?” Naturally, students are up for this new intellectual adventure.
With just five small netbooks to share among 18 children, the magic of collective knowledge construction begins. Students move around their desks, talk to each other and work hard for half an hour. When they encounter a problem, they turn to co-ordinator ‘Professor Rodrigo’ who was appointed to the role by his own classmates.
“Educational authorities present are a bit scared it won’t work, that students won’t understand the texts they encountered, but children prove otherwise when it’s their turn to speak and defend what they have learnt,” explains SOLE Argentina’s international relations director Mabel Quiroga.
“When it comes to feedback time some read from their notes in a loud voice, others are shy and let their group partners speak up but they all come up to the front of the class – it’s only fair that they share the credit of this big success.”
The 11 and 12-year-olds present concepts and central ideas one after the other with confidence and not a hint of pretension: assembly line, mass production, specialization, Toyotism…
George Aguado, from the Ministry of Education, was watching the process intently. He decided to find out the answer to what decision makers and educators in educational systems consider to be the most important question: “Have they really understood?” He asked two boys what they had really learned.
Their one simple and deep statement in response convinced him and all the people around:
“Ford’s system treated workers like slaves – it could never last,” they said. “It got replaced by a gentler Japanese-Korean system.”
George turned to Mariano, their teacher. “They have understood,” he said, awed. Watching learning emerge at the edge of chaos is indeed an awesome sight.