Can children learn on their own without teachers and a formal classroom setting? Sugata Mitra has spent the last 15 years to prove this that they can. His radical idea of a computer online networking system helps poor kids in slums pick up new knowledge and language on their own by sharing a web-connected computer.
Sugata Mitra is the winner of the 2013 TED prize, which he won his great work in the area of minimally invasive learning, particularly a project called “Hole-in-the-Wall”, a ground-breaking idea that youngsters can learn on their own by getting on the Cloud – an information platform that links learning “labs”, where rich kids and poor kids can work together on questions designed to stimulate their creativity and curiosity.
He experimented with this by installing a web-linked computer in a slum in Delhi and he found out that kids who had never seen a digital device before started to surf the net and and familiarise themselves with most Windows’ functions, all in a 'no-pressure' environment that allows children to embark on intellectual adventures online working in a group. Later on, Mitra built other self-organised learning environment (SOLES) labs in India and the UK, and put together the initiative “The School in the Cloud”- a global learning platform with knowledge driven by worldwide communities.
Granny Cloud is another project of the “school” that connects the elderly from English-speaking countries with kids in India and Colombia via daily, 30-minute Skype calls. These calls are means to help the children learn English involve stories, craft activities, songs, exploring the web together, quizzes and discussions.
“They (the kids) start speaking English from the third or the fourth day. I asked them how they managed the new language so quickly; they told me ‘what choice do we have? The grannies don’t speak Hindi’,” - Sugata Mitra says.
The SOLES experience tells us children can be drivers of their own learning process. When parents are worried about their kids spending too much time internet-browsing, perhaps we too could think out of the box. Maybe it’s time for 21st century mainstream education to be more inclusive of digital learning.