Problem: The model for the current school was conceived some 300 years ago. The central idea was for people to receive equal education, develop good handwriting, be literate and be capable of performing basic arithmetic without the use of pencil and paper. This obsolete model has not, up to now, reached every child in the world, especially those that live in remote areas. Sugata Mitra, a professor of technical education at the College of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at the University of Newcastle, in the United Kingdom, believes that current learning methods should be dynamic, engaging and stimulating. In 1999, he performed an experiment with children in New Delhi that he called "Hole in the Wall". He placed a computer in a hole in the wall of his office, where he worked with computer programming, that faced a shanty town. The children that lived there learned to use the computer themselves without having had any prior contact with one. Professor Mitra repeated the experiment many times in different locations, including remote villages, and the results were always consistent. With his experimental results, Professor Mitra created The School in the Cloud, which promotes spontaneous collaborative learning among children. The project has gained the partnership of significant organizations, such as Microsoft, Made by Many, IDEO and Sundance.
Solutions: The School in the Cloud intends to spread throughout the world self-organizing learning environments, known by the acronym Sole, so that children can make discovories with the aid of their peers by using a computer and the Internet. The first of these was established in the English city of Killingworth in 2013. Currently, many such computer labs are spread throughout India and the United Kingdom, where children can embark on thought journeys and become involved and connect with the world of online tutoring.
Through this learning method, students are free to exercise their imagination and creativity by posing important questions and connecting to the internet with a global team of volunteer tutors, affectionately referred to as "Grannies". Learning occurs spontaneously in these intentionally chaotic environments. The teachers act as facilitators by encouraging the participation of everyone that is online and by checking the veracity of the information that is being exchanged. At the end of each session, the groups present the results of their research. Some examples of the questions that arose in these environments are, "What would happen on Earth if all the insects disappeared?” or, "Are there more stars in the sky than grains of sand on our beaches?". These learning environments also promote other activities, such as storytelling, handcrafts, music, group exploration of the internet, question and answer games and discussions.
Anyone can create their own virtual learning space with a step by step tutorial that is available on the project's website. Those that are interested recruit 12 children and have computers that can access the internet, and those that would like to act as voluntary tutors can participate in the sessions live over Skype. Each participant - student, teacher or volunteer - can create a profile on the website in order to share discoveries and whatever challenges they may encounter during the learning process.
The School in the Cloud
Outcomes: The project helps to develop reading, research and logical reasoning skills. Students feel that they are being challenged and stimulated to explore their own abilities and learn with their peers. The curiosity of the students is peaked and they discover more about themselves through the spontaneous exchange of information. They also learn how to prepare themselves for the future by dealing with a world that is highly complex and interconnected while developing their problem solving capacities. As of July 2014, more than 40,000 Sole creation guides have been downloaded from the project's website. Mitra was the first to be awarded US$ 1 million at the 2013 TED event. The project monitors the evolution of the children in each of the environments and conducts studies regarding the students' levels of self-confidence and English language proficiency. Entities and indivuduals from various countries have already created their own Soles, including Cambodia, Chile, Uruguay and China.