By Natasha Scripture
Sugata Mitra thinks big. At last year’s TED, he unveiled his dream to transform primary education. Instead of a teacher, a chalkboard and a generic curriculum, the recipient of the 2013 TED Prize asked us to imagine an environment that empowered children to learn on their own, with the guidance of virtual mentors. Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud It involved nothing more than a few computers, an Internet connection and a bunch of curious minds. He called this utopian world School in the Cloud, a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE), or simply put, a place where children could tap into their innate sense of wonder by connecting with information online.
A year later, Mitra returned to the TED stage to give an update. He has opened five learning labs — three in India and two in the UK — with two more slated to open in May. Mitra is also the subject of a School in the Cloud documentary being filmed by British director Jerry Rothwell, the winner of the Sundance Institute | TED Prize Filmmaker Award. The trailer was released during TED2014, giving viewers a taster of all the work that went into building the School in the Cloud and a candid look at Sugata Mitra himself. Because let’s face it: some people thought his head was in the clouds when he conceived of this idea … But now, kids around the world are learning in this exciting new way.
At the same time, Mitra — a professor at Newcastle University — has also pioneered a digital tool, a virtual School in the Cloud Community Platform with the help of core technology and innovation partner Microsoft and their Skype Social Good team. The web platform, launched this week, ensures that anyone, anywhere around the world can experiment with self-organized learning. Made by Many, the product design team, spent six months co-creating the platform with Mitra’s team, Microsoft and children themselves, to ensure that the experience translates across cultural and economic barriers. Essentially, it is a giant global experiment in self-organized learning, inviting everyone to help design the future of learning.
The online platform acts as a one-stop shop for people interested in exploring self-organized learning. It includes an easy tool to start a SOLE and a library of resources showcasing Mitra’s research and the philosophy behind self-organized learning. The platform is also the hub for a network of Skype Grannies — retired teachers who encourage children by asking them the kinds of questions that get them thinking. For those interested in becoming a Skype Granny, or online mentor, the Community Platform guides them through the registration process and prepares them for their role in the self-organized learning environment. Educators and kids can quickly connect online or via text message with a Skype Granny, to embark on intellectual adventures.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the platform is the SOLE session tools. Not only do these tools guide children by posing big questions, their intellectual journey is easily tracked by selecting language, images and videos for a final presentation. It’s this process that sparks curiosity and culminates with a dynamic and critical discussion– all essential skills to prepare children for the future. Educators can also track children’s engagement, confidence and “search skills.”
The web platform was developed so anyone could discover self-organized learning. It’s a global opportunity to experiment, and together, design a future of learning that is as relevant in northeast England as it is in rural West Bengal. More than anything, School in the Cloud is a place, an experience and a community – an organic movement toward more inclusive, universal education.