The Common Good

Justice in the Hole: A New Way to Educate

I think about the gospel as being a new way of seeing the world. Jesus would empower people that usually did not have power in their normal day to day life. The woman at the well was a woman despised by her community, and then one encounter with Jesus changes her standing (John 4). Where as at the start of the story she was alone, at the end of the story she leads the town back to Jesus. Jesus gave her life back to her. Love lives in the day to day.

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I think about Jesus' love as I contemplate the work of Dr. Sugata Mitra and his Hole-in-the-Wall Education Limited (HIWEL), and how to use it for my church and community. For those unfamiliar with HIWEL, in 1999, Dr. Mitra started an experiment outside of his office in the Indian slum of Kalkaji, New Delhi. He put a computer in a wall with no instructions on how to use it. Soon, the neighborhood kids learned to use the computer and started to teach other younger kids in the slum to use it. By harnessing a child's curiosity and their natural desire to lead younger children, Dr. Mitra stumbled onto a new method of teaching. He then moved on his initial success and with the same results, repeated it throughout rural India. He tried his new methods with other subjects -- molecular biology with preteens, for example -- and after some adjustments, achieved the same results. Suddenly, children who had no future now had new possibilities.

What I admire about Dr. Mitra's work is that it is inspiring. It also challenges our notions of what is possible. His work is now being taken back to the developed world and is also achieving success. We have to start transforming our educational philosophy from the older industrial model where children are thought of as products on an assembly line. HIWEL gives us a new way of looking at education, one that is more interactive and incorporates the human need to help others.

When the subject of justice for the poor comes up, the usual responses are platitudes. Yet in reality, if we are to meet the Millennium Development Goals, we need less platitudes and more practical methods. One of our main goals must be primary education. Dr. Mitra's work makes the reality of this goal imaginable.

portrait-ernesto-tinajero1Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at beingandfaith.blogspot.com.

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