LONG BEACH — Self-directed learning proponent Sugata Mitra has been named as the recipient of the 2013 TED Prize, and will use the $1 million accompanying it to build a "learning lab" in India, overseen entirely by a global network of retired teachers who participate by Skype through the Cloud.
The School in the Cloud will allow children to "embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online," Mitra said Tuesday at the annual TED Conference in Long Beach.
"My 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," Mitra said.
The school will serve as both an education and research center to further explore approaches to self-directed learning. It will be self-sustaining and managed by cloud technology, with an adult supervisor always on-site. Once complete, the design will become a blueprint and available for anyone to duplicate.
"We have the opportunity to choose and create the kind of world we want," Mitra said. "In an ideal world, we would have great schools with great teachers absolutely everywhere.
"Yet the reality is that there will always be places where good teachers cannot or will not go. If we're going to level the education playing field around the world, we need an alternative system that also prepares children to enter a technology-driven workplace. School in the Cloud has the potential to help achieve this."
Mitra developed the concept of the School in the Cloud from his 1999 "Hole in the wall" experiment, in which he carved a hole from his research center into an adjoining Delhi slum and placed a freely accessible computer in the hole.
Mitra found that groups of Indian street children, with no prior experience or knowledge of English, could teach themselves how to use the computer.
For the next 10 years, Mitra expanded on his findings and created a "granny cloud" - online moderators of retired teachers - who could Skype into learning centers and encourage children with questions and assignments.
Mitra developed the concept of Self Organized Learning Environments, where educators ask students questions, leading them on intellectual journeys rather than asking them to just memorize facts.
The TED Prize is awarded "to individuals who have demonstrated significant achievement that the prize wish can build on," director Lara Stein said.
"Sugata has not only created a remarkable body of research around self-directed learning, but he has support from teachers around the world who are tapping into his methodology with great success," Stein said.
"We are thrilled to support his wish, and are excited for him to delve deeper, build his lab in India, and provide platform for educators and parents around the world who wish to explore this model."