“Hole in the Wall” Guru to develop Cloud Schools

27 Aug

Dr Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, is the winner of the 2013 TED prize of $1 million (£670,000).  He plans to build seven ‘Schools in the Clouds’ – five in India and two in England – to enable children to explore and learn from one another.   (Read more here.) Professor Mitra believes that children can teach themselves using the internet and that this can trigger vast improvements in a number of areas, including English comprehension.    “We must not assume that the only way they can learn to read is the way they are learning now,” he avers.   “Maybe they can learn to read by themselves.”

This is a development from his “Hole in the Wall” venture where he installed an internet-connected, child-height computer in a Delhi slum. Children worked out its functions by themselves which spawned his theory of the self-organised learning environment (SOLE).

He has already recruited (at the time of writing) nearly 300 “granny clouds” – i.e. women – mainly retired professionals from four continents – to service the “cloud schools” who will connect to a SOLE via Skype with the children using the computers.  They will facilitate learning and suggest research projects to the children, encouraging and praising their learning.

The cloud schools will be known as Areas 0-6.  The schools will be in the following areas.

  1. Area 0 – the flagship and most expensive – a hexagonal glass pod, to be built in Gocharan, a village in West Bengal, India.
  2. Area 1 – the most remote cloud school will be built from mud and grass in Korakati, a little village in the Sundarbans in West Bengal.
  3. Area 2 – to be sited in an existing room in the village of Chandra Koma, around 200 km from Kolkata (Calcutta).
  4. Area 3 – in an urban slum in Delhi.
  5. Area 4 – in a slum in Pune, India.
  6. Area 5 – in a converted classroom at George Stephenson High, Killingworth, England.
  7. Area 6 – in an arts centre at Greenfield Community College, Newton Aycliffe, England.

The “Hole in the Wall” project demonstrated that even in the absence of input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity and creativity can cause learning through self-instruction and sharing of knowledge by peers.    The Cloud Schools appear to be a natural progression from the first project that was started in 1999.

Professor Mitra has opined that the present educational system was begun in Queen Victoria’s time to promote a set of norms and standards that were to be replicated across the British Empire.   Its aim was to produce identical people to produce machines that no more exist.   His “wish is that we design the future of learning. We don’t want to be spare parts for a great human computer.”

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