Around the World in 80 Days (well almost)



(Cross Posted from TESOLANZ Newsletter December 2013 Vol 22 #3)

A collaborative effort using google Docs by Sonya Van Shaijik, with Margaret Kitchen and Maree Jeurissen

Anytime, anywhere connectivity can change the face of learning. Just look at the Hole in the Wall Project below. Learning is about collaboration and co-creating, and E-Learning enables this. This article reports on Sonya Van Shaijik’s (E-learning Lead teacher and ESOL teacher from Newmarket School) Ministry of Education TeachNZ sabbatical which was to investigate the relationship between pedagogy and student learning using ICT. A long-time advocate of bilingual learning, Sonya visited Asia to enrich her understanding of the children she teaches.

India: The Hole in the Wall Project


Sonya’s visit to one cell of The Hole in the Wall Project illustrates the changing face of learning.  In 1999 a team from NIIT (an Indian company specialising in educational learning  solutions, information technology and much more) carved a “hole in the wall” that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the community, especially the children. With no prior experience or teacher intervention, the children learnt to use the computer on their own. Sonya was taken to meet three of the earliest users at one cell by Dr Ritu Dangwal, a researcher in the project. One of these first users is now a shop owner, another is in the second year of teacher training and one is training to be a lawyer. Sonya also watched the children step up to use the computer. One boy comes every morning to talk to his grandfather in another city, the grandfather also using a “hole in the wall” computer. The project’s instigator Dr. Sugata Mitra hypothesises that: The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.


Sonya also was able to virtually meet Dr Suneeta Kalkarni the face behind the Granny cloud project ( which is the next stage of Sugata’s work. This is when learners do not need supervision but that does not mean that they do not need ‘benign mentors’. Indeed, is it not the role of grandparents, uncles, aunts, [and sometimes parents and teachers too!] to be benign and friendly mentors instead of just ‘supervisors’?

Flat classroom conference

Sonya participated in a flat classroom conference in Hawai’i, a unique event that included 200 students and 40 educators from 9 countries working together in teams. Flat classrooms are about educators and students being part of learning communities using leading technology tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking and digital storytelling.

Hui Mei Chang, Sonya Van Schaijik

Anita Chen, Bill Brady, Ryan Fujii

  Sonya reconnected with Ryan in Japan  later on in her journey

Pedagogy and Student Learning

Sonya used her TeachNZ sabbatical to establish connections with educators around the world. Schools in Europe and then in Asia were visited and different learning environments observed. The educators who allowed access to their domain were educators who have a history of sharing professional practice and responding to children’s learning by using Technology in Transformative Ways. Whilst on her journey Sonya was able to observe how schools in Europe learn a second and even a third language. Many schools visited begin learning a second language by about 9 years old and the language is kept separate by teacher or by subject. Language and content learning are fully integrated and two or three languages are learned concurrently by all students – food for thought for the NZ context.

While away on her TeachNZ Sabbatical, Sonya used the following tools to communicate with educators both in New Zealand and globally.

More Information on Sabbatical Teacher Awards


One thought on “Around the World in 80 Days (well almost)

  1. […] culture of my learners and what is important to them by continually learning. I am reminded of my TeachNZ sabbatical where I visited 13 countries in 11 targeting the countries where most of our learners come from. […]


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