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Giving Rural Kids Computers and Seeing What Happens

Sugata Mitra's TED Talk starts with these words: "There are places on Earth, in every country, where, for various reasons, good schools cannot be built and good teachers cannot or do not want to go...." From this jumping-off point, Indian education scientist Mitra shows us a variety of experiments in which he placed computers with internet access in contexts where kids could experiment with them on their own -- without teachers. "At the end of [the early experiments], we concluded that groups of children can learn to use computers sand the internet on their own, irrespective of who or where they were. At that point I became a little more ambitious, and decided to see -- what else could children do with a computer?"

This talk is frequently surprising and delightful, partly because Mitra's experimental design is delightful on its own (he tends to give kids a simple starting point and then, without much explanation, simply leaves for a few weeks). While it is not about replacing teachers with machines (despite what Arthur C. Clarke suggests during the talk), it's all about how kids can and do teach themselves about topics that interest them. It isn't always positive (there's an amusing bit around the six-minute mark about kids using the web to cheat on homework assignments), but it's certainly an impressive story and a worthy set of experiments. Particularly interesting is when Mitra attempts to figure out which topics must be taught with the aid of a teacher.

What Have You Taught Yourself?

After watching this talk, I'm reminded that in many cases, the computer skills I use daily are mostly self-taught. In many ways, I was like the kids in this experiment -- as a young kid, a computer showed up in my house (and to some extent in school and the library, though access was limited) and I was encouraged to play with it. From there came skills like touch typing (which I only truly learned when I got a job as typist), software development, graphic design, computer repair, and, I'll admit it, a fair number of games. How about you?

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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Live Smarter
The Facts Behind That $5 Billion in 'Forgiven' Student Loan Debt
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The New York Times created a considerable stir on July 17 by detailing a widespread student loan repayment crisis. According to the paper, one of the largest holders of private loans, National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, has been struggling to provide documentation that proves it owns the $5 billion in delinquent accounts that it’s been attempting to collect. Without that paperwork, dozens of lawsuits brought against defaulting borrowers are being dismissed.

A lack of a paper trail is never a good thing for the plaintiff in attempting to collect a debt. But it’s not exactly great news for the borrower, either. 

Here’s why: First, it’s helpful to understand how a typical chain of custody works for private student loans. (Federal loans, which typically have more forgiving terms, are a separate issue entirely.) Banks and other lenders offer loans to applicants, then turn around and sell bundles of those loans to a depositor. That depositor will offer the loans to an umbrella organization like National Collegiate, which is comprised of 15 private trusts holding the paper on more than 800,000 loans.

This lengthy chain of custody is where the problems begin. Because loans pass through several hands, it’s not always clear who has retained the documentation needed by courts to prove that National Collegiate is the owner of the debt they’re attempting to collect from a borrower in default. As a result, judges tasked with these cases often have no choice but to dismiss them.

That’s led to a series of headlines about $5 billion in “forgiven” debt, which may sound comforting to someone burdened with a towering student loan at exorbitant interest rates. However, as several attorneys speaking to the media have pointed out, it’s not that simple. The cases that have been dismissed were in court because the borrower was already in default. In situations where National Collegiate can prove ownership of the debt, those debtors are facing wage garnishment and a negative impact on their credit score. Simply defaulting on a loan and hoping you happen to be one of the people whose paperwork is incomplete is a dangerous form of wishful thinking.

In the event you had no choice but to default and might benefit from National Collegiate's poor record-keeping, you may not walk away unscathed. According to debt relief attorney Daniel Gamez, a student borrower who sees his or her case dismissed is not facing a clean slate. National Collegiate is fighting so many defaulted loans that they may choose to drop cases based on logistical issues like witness scheduling. Still, even if the lawsuit is dropped, National Collegiate may have the option to refile it at a later date—this time armed with the documentation and resources they need. And any debt, even if it’s been declared unenforceable, may still affect your credit score.

Ultimately, whether or not National Collegiate can produce paperwork doesn’t change the fact that a borrower has a student loan that they’ve agreed to repay. As a creditor, National Collegiate is likely to take every legal measure available in order to collect on that debt. While those amounts may be “forgiven” in court, they’re not likely to be forgotten.

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