Sugata Mitra in February of this year gave a powerful TED Talk explaining that building a school in the cloud is not only a plausible option, but an option that could potentially make access to education a problem of the past.
Mitra started his TED Talk by sharing a story about how many wealthier parents in India bragged about their sons and daughters great computer skills. Parents believing their children are the best at everything is nothing new, but Mitra wouldn’t have been surprised if these children had a high computer IQ. Through their parents, these children had opportunity and access to a great education. However, Mitra wanted to know if these children of wealthy parents were actually brilliant, or if given the opportunity, could children with no access to any computers or wealth could be just as great. To test his theory, he put a computer in a hole in the wall 300 miles inland from his office, and then told children they could use the computer. The results will surprise you.
A number of children stared at the computer, and began to teach other how to browse the Internet. This may sound trivial, but these children didn’t speak English. In order to even begin to use the computer, they had to learn English. After two months of using the computer, Mitra returned to the computer, and the children asked him, “Can you bring a better mouse and faster processor please?” Mitra installed another computer under a tree, and even more children learned how to browse, improved their English, and most were computer literate within months of having access to a computer.
Mitra’s obvious next step was to find teachers to help these low-income students. However, finding teachers to volunteer their time over a webcam to very young children proved difficult. Mitra overcame this obstacle by employing grandmothers. This may sound strange, but any good grandmother knows the best way to encourage a child is to ask questions: “How did you do that? How did you get to this screen? Can you explain to me what you did?” The grandmothers also gave words of encouragement: “I could never do that at your age. You are really smart. You learn so quickly!” This encouragement and interaction with the grandmothers only boosted the childrens computer literacy intelligence.
A New Approach
Seeing such great success has caused Mitra to look at our education system in a new way:
“My [Mitra] 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.”
Building a school in the cloud will give more students all around the world access and the opportunity to a great education (you can watch the entire TED Talk here).
It is education month here at Jolkona, and we have three featured projects that need your help. A donation to our Give Together campaign will do one of three things: help close the technological gap in the U.S. through the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), provide play-powered lanterns for rural students in Ghana, or help support women teachers in Burmese. Donate today!