Why This Indian Edupreneur's Efforts Were Applauded on an International Platform
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Mridul is 12 when he watches the lab in his village gradually taking shape, wondering what it will mean for him. When the room gets the internet he quickly finds it's a place to explore maps, cricket scores, watch Charlie Chaplin films. His English rapidly improves and he becomes an organizer of the other children in the village, helping them when they take part in Skype sessions with the English- speaking mediators. A studious child, the lab offers him something that school doesn't... opening up a new world!
Krishanu is also 12 years old whose father is a fisherman and whose mother has high hopes for her son's education. "But what use are dreams" she says, "here there are no opportunities." Krishanu is optimistic he can learn and, through his skyped conversations with retired primary school teachers, he begins to learn English.
Priya is 13, when the Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) arrives close to her home she is excited. "This place "will turn me from a village girl into a modern one." The threat of an early marriage hangs over her if she fails to achieve highly in school. Her ambition is to become a policewoman, which would take her far from the future her family has mapped out for her.
In recent years this idea of Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) has rapidly gathered pace. In SOLE, children search for answers to 'big' questions. It has also inspired Self Organised Mediation Environments (SOMEs) - better known as the Granny Cloud - where children interact with online 'grannies' to engage in a wide range of informal activities. Turning the world of education on its head through SOLEs, is Prof Sugata Mitra, a professor in Educational Technology, at Newcastle University, U.K by profession and an education entrepreneur by passion.
With Internet, Traditional Methods of Learning are Redundant
"SOLE project builds upon the successful Granny Cloud, which was set up in 2009 after a plea for retired teachers in the UK to come forward who were willing to interact with children in India via Skype. The SOLE approach appealed to many educators world-wide and is now used by many teachers and schools in their own classrooms. The School in the Cloud joins these two components together and brings in the Grannies who use the SOLE approach in these settings," shared Prof. Mitra.
In 1999, Mitra's ground-breaking "Hole in the Wall" experiments established the potential of self-organized learning. Today, it is a well known fact that The Hole in the Wall experiment stimulated Indian diplomat Vikras Swarup to write 'Q&A', which later became the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Mitra has since then refined his ideas into a theory of Minimally Invasive Education, which helps children self-organize the learning process in groups using internet.
According to the professor in the age of internet, traditional methods of learning are redundant. "Groups of children, with access to the Internet, can learn almost anything by themselves," he asserted.
Developing further on this research and his TED talks of 2010 and 2013, Mitra took up a much more complex experiment - the 'School In The Cloud' - a stand alone, unmanned physical labs in locations ranging from rural West Bengal to Gateshead in the UK.
Impact of Self-organized Learning on Children
In December 2013, the first School in the Cloud lab -- located inside a high school in Killingworth, England -- opened its doors to students. Seven more labs have since been opened - five in India, one more in the UK and in New York, USA. Today, Professor Mitra's experimental outputs from the slums of India and villages of Cambodia, to schools in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, the USA and United Kingdom, are promising a fascinating new future for learning.
"The aim is to give an atmosphere in which a global community of educators can watch the impact of self-organized learning on children who belong to a wide range of educational backgrounds," notified Mitra, whose project has been made possible with the help of the $1m TED Prize to build School in the Cloud 'learning labs' in some of the most remote and deprived areas of India. At the labs children are can just drop in to use the Internet for learning and benefit from regular face-to-face online Skype sessions.
World Premiere at Copenhagen
On March 20, a documentary which charts Professor Mitra's efforts to establish his School in the Cloud in India and the UK was screened the first time at the CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen. School in the Cloud is directed by award-winning director Jerry Rothwell.
The film particularly focuses on the 'school in the swamp' in remote Korakati, in the Sunderbans of Bengal; and George Stephenson High School, in Killingworth, North Tyneside, where the first School in the Cloud lab opened.