The Washington Post is reporting that the first TED Prize for education innovation has been awarde to Sugata Mitra, the originator of the idea of “School in the Cloud,” which will allow Indian students to engage in self-directed learning in a setting described as a virtual computer lab. The prize, which totals $1 million, will go towards making Mitra’s plans a reality.
The School in the Cloud concept is only part of Mitra’s overall goal of bringing technology-enhanced education to students in every part of the world. He explained his vision in the form of a wish published on the TED website:
“My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries.”
For Mitra, his wish is backed up by a concrete plan based on a number of experiments aimed at determining how well children who had never been exposed to technology can adapt and make use of computing technology. He hopes to recruit a number of technological innovators and designers to help him make the School in the Cloud a reality – centered in a building in India – from which students can make use of cloud-based scalable tools for self-directed learning.
Mitra’s desire to bring computing to the masses stems from a number of experiments he performed in India starting in 1990. In a literal hole in the wall in a building in a Delhi slum, he inserted a computer. The strange contraption attracted kids who gathered around and asked Mitra to explain what the machine did. Instead of offering guidance, Mitra simply walked away and he was amazed, upon coming back, to find that children who had never used a computer before were now surfing the web and even teaching others how to do it.
Mitra repeated the experiment 300 miles away, where computers even less familiar. He installed a mysterious computer on the side of a road. A few months later, he returned and found kids playing games on it. Remembers Mitra, “They said, ‘We want a faster processor and a better mouse.’ ”
Another thing these kids said that was music to his ears: “You’ve given us a machine that works only in English, so we had to teach ourselves English.” Mitra says, “It was the first time I heard the words ‘teach ourselves’ said so casually.”