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Education innovator wins $1 million TED prize

The winner of the first $1 million TED Prize for education innovation is (no, not Sal Khan) Sugata Mitra, for his plan this year to start  the “School in the Cloud,” which is essentially a computer lab where children in Indian can learn in a student-driven environment.

He has released a toolkit for parents and teachers who want to create what he calls self-organized learning environments, or SOLES, for kids ages 8-12, which you can find here.

Here is his wish, taken from the TED Web site:

“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.”

And here is his plan, from the same Web site:

Recruit technology, architecture, creative and educational partners to help design and build the School in the Cloud, a physical building in India, designed to try out a range of cloud-based, scalable approaches to self-directed learning.
Contribute to the global network of educators and retired teachers who can support and engage the children through the web.


Engage communities, parents, schools and afterschool programs worldwide, to transform the way kids learn, by sharing the Self Organized Learning Environment’s (SOLE) toolkit, how-to videos, and educational resources.
Work with the TED community to implement various controlled experiments in the School in the Cloud laboratory in India.


Gather feedback from the School in the Cloud laboratory and the global community of SOLE educators to help shape the future of learning. The feedback will be used to create a blueprint, free for others to copy and scale, and a web-based public commons of educational resources.

According to the TED Web site:

Mitra has a history of research to back up this wish. In 1999, he began what he calls his “hole in the wall” experiment. He carved a hole in a wall in a Delhi slum — about three feet high — and placed a computer in it. Kids had gathered around within a matter of hours and asked Mitra questions about what this thing was. He responded “I don’t know,” and walked away.


Soon the kids were surfing the internet — and teaching each other how to do it more effectively.


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.”

Here’s a video about those experiments: