A scientist and education researcher known for his belief that children can learn with minimal direction is setting out to create a “School in the Cloud,” which he says will build a global network of learning.
Sugata Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in England, was recently awarded a $1 million TED Award to design and build the school, which will be headquartered in his native India—and presumably accessible from everywhere else.
TED is a nonprofit that acts as a supporter and clearinghouse of what it considers to be innovative ideas. It started out as a conference in the 1980s that brought together people from technology, entertainment and design backgrounds, and has grown from there. Past winners of TED awards include Bill Clinton, novelist Dave Eggers, and U2’s frontman, Bono.
One of the best known examples of Mitra’s thinking on how children can learn is his Hole-in-the-Wall concept. In 1999, he and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall next to a slum in a city in India, installed a computer with an Internet connection, and let students from the slum play with it. The researchers, watching with a hidden camera, saw children gain familiarity with the computer and its tools and teach others how to use it.
The experiment has been repeated many times. The idea is that even without direct input from a teacher, students can learn through self-instruction and sharing of knowledge, if they’re in settings that promote curiosity. Mitra calls this approach “minimally invasive education.”
Cloud computing typically refers to a system that is accessible to users entirely online, rather than connected to software on a computer, or a computer’s hard drive, or another physical system. Many school districts in the United States are using cloud computing to save money and improve services, despite concerns about the security of information.
Many of the details of Mitra’s school in the cloud, it appears, have yet to be worked out. But Mitra is already seeking content from around the world. He’s set up a page where parents, grandparents, and others can download “self-organized learning environment” toolkits for children, and share their experiences with those designing the School in the Cloud.
“Schools as we know them now are obsolete,” Mitra said during a presentation at a TED conference. “I’m not saying that they’re broken. It’s quite fashionable to say the education system is broken.”
The current education system “is wonderfully constructed,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.”
Those interested in the alternative Mitra envisions can watch his full presentation below: