Let students use the internet in exams - expert

Students should be allowed to use the internet during exams, according to a world-leading expert in education.

Sugata Mitra is in New Zealand for the Leading Remarkable Learning conference. The Newcastle University professor is a proponent of "minimally invasive education", in which kids teach themselves using computers and the internet.

"We are relying on an assessment and examination system that is several hundred years old," Prof Mitra told The AM Show on Thursday.

"That system assumes you should be able to know stuff out of your head. Whereas knowing things right now, is a lot more dependent on what's in your pocket - your smartphone."

In 1999, Prof Mitra conducted an experiment in a Delhi slum which would form the basis of minimally invasive education. He set up an internet-connected computer for slum kids to play with, unsupervised. The kids, on their own, figured out how to use the internet, speak English and use search engines.

Access to the world's knowledge also saw their exam scores improve.

With the world a lot more reliant on the internet in 2017 than 1999, Prof Mitra says it's time education systems caught up.

"Children will have to survive in a world with a lot of machines. That's not new - we've all learned to do that since the industrial revolution - but this time there's a challenge. It's not just machines - it's the internet. In other words, we have the ability to know what everybody else is thinking. We never had that ability."

Kids he speaks to say they don't understand why they're not allowed to use their phones in exams.

"They'll look at an exam question and say, 'I don't know why they asked me this, and I don't know why they've taken my phone away - otherwise I could have told you.'

While children are often more net-savvy than their teachers, Prof Mitra says it's not the teachers' fault.

"Teachers are doing what they can under the circumstances. The problem is not that - the teachers will change if the system wants them to change. The system will change if it takes into account not so much technology as the internet - the existence of the internet.

"We can't have schools and universities that pretend the internet doesn't exist."

In his view, schools only need to actively teach three things:

  • reading comprehension
  • information search and analysis (so they can find the information they need)
  • a rational system of belief (to protect themselves against "doctrine", or in 2017, "fake news").

"Allow the use of the internet during examinations. It will change everything," says Prof Mitra.