TED organizers announced Tuesday that they have awarded the $1-million TED Prize for 2013 to Dr. Sugata Mitra.
Mitra is a physicist from India who over the last decade has been experimenting with using technology to create new systems to allow children without access to classrooms to learn on their own.
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Mitra began his work with what he called a "hole in the wall" experiment. Mitra was trying to figure out how he could use technology to help children in a nearby Delhi slum. So he carved a hole in an outside wall of his research center and placed a computer in it. Over time, he observed as Indian children from the slum with no English skills and no computer skills taught themselves how to use the computer.
This led Mitra over the next decade to create a "school in the cloud." He installs a single computer in low-income communities and hooks them into high-speed networks. Then he recruits retired school teachers to offer lessons via Skype.
Rather than teaching for a whole day, the teachers give the students lessons or challenges that they then work together to complete or solve. In essence, the goal is to find ways to allow the children to become their own teachers, a concept that Mitra calls SOLEs or Self Organized Learning Environments.
"You can do it in the school," Mitra said. "You can do it at home. You need to give them one question so they can gather around the question. Then you stand back and watch. And you always see fantastic things."
The prize money will allow Mitra to broaden the reach of the program. He also plans to set up an innovation lab in India to continue to experiment with the system. And he also wants to create better methods for collecting data from people using the approach to understand what is, and is not, working.
"If we can do this, we can level the playing field for learning around the world," he said.