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  • Steven Delpome

A Saturday Morning SOLE

Two Saturday’s ago I woke up and logged on to Facebook to this post from Sugata Mitra:

(If you wish to try this yourself, you don’t want to scroll much further)

I recognized this immediately as a fun attempt at starting a spontaneous SOLE by Professor Mitra. I was curious, so I jumped in. Seeing the initial comments that had been posted was inevitable.

First instinct after reading these was to try Google’s photo recognition search, and I found out that the writing was an ancient form of Bengali called Bangla. (you can do this at should you wish to try) However, there was no translation on the web. My next instinct was to try Google Translate. I searched the languages available and Bengali was!

I clicked and was not sure what I would do next because I had no idea what these symbols were or what they meant and of course how to type them in to get a translation. So I stared at the screen for a minute before noticing the symbol that Google provided at the bottom left of the translation box.

Hmmm… What does that do?

It’s a Bengali Keyboard! So here I was at my keyboard with the photo open on the desktop next to the net window searching for the right keys that matched the symbols. And as I did this, I encountered two new problems:

  1. The symbols would change as they were typed next to other symbols, so I was never sure that I was getting an accurate translation because what the symbols became was not what was in the pic.

  2. I wasn’t sure that the symbols I was typing matched the symbols in the photo.

But really who cared? This was so cool finding out that I could discover this stuff on the Internet!

**spoilers to follow**

The first word, according to Google translate was “Crazy.” At least it was when I entered the first three symbols of the first word. I entered the fourth and Google told me it translated to “Badisa.” I wanted it to mean Crazy!

I turned off the keyboard and tried to translate Badisa from Bengali to English. “Badisa” is all I got. And when I hit detect language it told me it was Afrikaans! So was I lost? Apparently not. I hit the web and found that Bengali and Afrikaans share quite a few words. Okay, so not so lost after all. But when I asked Google how to say crazy in Bengali I got the following:

None resembling the original word:

Just as I was about to go back to the original facebook post and see if anyone else had anything to offer, I noticed something else about Google Translate. The pencil. The freakin’ pencil!

I can write the symbols in! I had to report this to the group.

(asking twitter was a pretty good idea too Doug. Wish I thought of it)

I even got an attaboy from our SOLE Granny Professor Mitra. I thought that was pretty cool. And, yes, I smiled because I felt proud of my discovery.

So I went and tried writing it into Google.

It even gave me suggestions! But, none looked like what I was looking for. Back to the group to see what they came up with and see what I could learn from them and there were great conversations going on. People sharing methods and guesses.

Professor Mitra, yet again, being the perfect encouraging and curious granny to keep everyone going.

Still didn't see an answer here, so I kept looking down the scroll and, yes, it turns out there really is an app for that.

Thus far I’d only been working on my desktop. I made the switch to the iPad, found a free app and went to work. Sadly, the free app did not recognize the text. However the conversation continued back at the original post and we found some success!

We are so close! At this point I felt I’d exhausted my options (and I had a Saturday to get on with), so I followed along with the rest of the conversation to see who would finally find the answer. It did not take long.

I did a google search of the line correctly translated and found that I had just participated in translating ancient Sanskrit poetry with others from around the world

I want to say it again because, to me, this is a major accomplishment that deserves notice


...and we did it from an image of the original text, and we’d been able to translate it in the matter of a few hours (I was involved for a little under an hour and a half).

Inevitably there were detractors.

I’d like to add that most detractors of SOLEs come from a position of control. The authority figure wishes to be able to monitor and control the learning that happens, and this is a natural response because, as teachers, we are granted a great responsibility to help children learn. But children will learn and do learn all the time, with our without us. When we studied education in college, we were told that the child learns something every day. It may be the lesson. It may be that you don’t care about the child. It may be that you do care about the child. It may be that he hates the subject. It may be that he loves the subject. But every day something is learned in your classroom.

But we never take this lesson to the next logical step that we can neither stop, nor control learning. There was a time that we teachers could do this: when we were the gatekeepers of almost all knowledge. We are not this anymore. Not even close. And the more we resist ideas like Self Organized Learning Environments, or the Learning Communities Project, or Democratic Schools, the more we move closer to obsoleting ourselves.

These ideas are not trying to destroy education. They are trying to save it.

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