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The first TED Prize for education innovation has been awarded to Sugata Mitra for his innovative “School in the Cloud” proposal - a physical computer lab and individually-adaptive learning environment that would be built in India and allow children to engage in self-directed learning.
The prize, which totals $1 million, will go towards making Mitra’s vision a reality. Mitra’s overall goal is to bring technology-enhanced education to students in every part of the world:
“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,” Mitra proposed.
Mitra’s plan is based on a number of experiments he has conducted since 1999 aimed at determining how well children, even those never before exposed to technology, could adapt and make use of computing technology.
Mitra was amazed at the results. For his first experiment, he inserted a computer in a hole he carved in the wall of a Delhi slum.
The computer attracted much attention and the kids gathered around and asked Mitra to explain what it was. Instead of offering help, however, Mitra simply said “I don’t know” and walked away.
Upon returning, Mitra found children who had never used a computer before surfing the web and teaching others how to do it more effectively.
Mitra repeated the experiment 300 miles away, where computers were even less familiar, installing a computer this time on the side of the road. A few months later he came back to find kids playing games on it. “We want a faster processor and a better mouse,” they told him.
“You’ve given us a machine that works only in English, so we had to teach ourselves English,” they said.
“It was the first time I heard the words ‘teach ourselves’ said so casually,” Mitra explained.
He hopes to recruit a number of creative technological innovators and designers to help him build his School in the Cloud. Mitra also plans to work with the TED community to conduct several experiments in the lab - trying out a range of cloud-based, scalable approaches - to advance the study of independent learning.
Janel Spencer is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions