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Professor: Smartphones have made it unnecessary to teach children how to spell

Is learning how to properly spell words necessary for children anymore? One professor says no.

Sugata Mitra, a professor and acclaimed educational researcher told the British education magazine TES that the emphasis on teaching traditional grammar and spelling is "a bit unnecessary," because children have constant access to technology like "autocorrect" on cell phones.

"Firstly, my phone corrects my spelling so I don’t really need to think about it and, secondly, because I often skip grammar and write in a cryptic way."

He added, "My entire background tells me, ‘No, no, it is really bad what you are saying’, but I think there is a change and we have to learn to live with it."

Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in England, is well-known for his "Hole-in-the-Wall" experiments in which Mitra and his colleagues set up an Internet-connected computer in the wall of a poor Indian slum to see who would be most attracted to the machine, with a hidden camera filming the area. The team found that children were the most likely to play with the computer and eventually taught each other how to search the Internet.

The project made Mitra the 2013 TED Prize winner and the recipient of $1 million in prize money which he plans to use to set up seven internet-controlled “cloud schools” where children are subjected to "minimally invasive education" or an education where children have little or no input from teachers and learn through the process of exploration, discovery, and peer coaching.

"Should (students) learn how to write good sentences? Yes, of course they should," Mitra told TES. "They should learn how to convey emotion and meaning through writing.

"But we have perhaps a mistaken notion that the way in which we write is the right way and that the way in which young people write through their SMS texting language is not the right way."

Mitra spoke to the magazine a few months after England's education ministers introduced a mandatory spelling and grammar test for 11-year-old students.

Joe Walsh, the co-director of the National Association for the Teaching of English in England, defended traditional spelling and grammar lessons.

"The skills of using grammar effectively in the context of writing and spelling accurately are just as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago," Walsh told TES. "Electronic devices can suggest alternatives, but they cannot think for you."

Other traditional lessons have recently been examined locally. In April of this year, the Utah State Board of Education gave a preliminary nod in support of adding handwriting and cursive in Utah's core curriculum.

"This is strictly a discussion of what is fundamental," Deputy State Superintendent Brenda Hales said. "The question is whether penmanship is fundamental to an English and reading education, and the answer the committee came up with was, 'Yes, it is.'"



Email: crenouard@deseretnews.com

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