The TED Prize-Winning Idea: A School in the Cloud

When TED first started awarding an annual cash prize back in 2005, the winner was the world-famous singer turned activist Bono. His award was $300,000 which went to benefit his nascent ONE organization in its fight to eradicate poverty.

$300,000 was probably a drop in Bono’s bucket. But this year, the winner of the TED prize will be getting $1 million. And he will likely be able to do quite a lot with it. He is a professor and educator named Sugata Mitra, famous for having put a computer in a hole in a wall in a slum in India and discovering that, left alone, children can teach themselves an amazing amount, starting with technical literacy. “In nine months a child left alone with a computer would reach the same standard as an office professional in the West,” he said in his TED talk after accepting the prize.

Mitra, now a professor at Newcastle University, became a proponent of what he coined Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) which capitalize on children’s innate curiosity and ability to learn a variety of subjects in a group setting from a computer. He doesn’t dispense with adults altogether though. He has experimented with many types of SOLEs and plans to use the TED prize to build a so-called School in the Cloud overseen by a global network of retired teachers who Skype into “classrooms” all over the world but especially in the most remote and underserved areas. “The role of the mediator is to ask the right questions and listen to the children bragging about what they did,” Mitra says.

Mitra has also created a toolkit for bringing self-organized learning environments into your own community, downloadable here. “The model is you have eight children and one computer. Not one computer per child,” he says. And although he seems to advocate a very hands-off approach to teaching, he did say that his method would be supplemental to traditional schooling, not a replacement.”There are going to be 10 different ways to teach the next generation. I have touched the tip of the iceberg of one.”

Emerald Data Solutions, a contributor to the Sundance Institute, is proud to help fund their TED Prize Filmmaker Award work. Our contribution will assist the production of a documentary, which will highlight Sugata Mitra’s work in revolutionizing education through technology.

"Our company has developed what I think is a more sustainable business model that relies on autonomy and self determination to fuel innovation and enhance productivity," said Emerald Data Solutions President Ari Ioannides. "I strongly believe that our work environment will some day become mainstream. Therefore, any education reform must support a new type of individual that is passionate and can go deep into their speciality. The sooner an individual becomes passionate and learns how to self direct, the better."

Emerald Data Solutions has featured several prominent TED speakers at our Annual eGovLIVE! Conference, including Daniel Pink (2012) and in 2013 Sir Ken Robinson.

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