A million-dollar prize for Delhi slum education project

Washington, Feb 27: A “hole in the wall” experiment in a Delhi slum, demonstrating how children collectively can teach themselves complex issues, has won educator Sugata Mitra the first one million dollar 2013 TED Prize.

Mitra, an education technology professor at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, said he will use the prize, awarded by TED, an annual global ideas conference, to launch a global initiative for self-directed learning that builds on his discovery.

“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,” he said in his acceptance speech Tuesday at the TED 2013 conference in Long Beach, California.

“Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online,” Mitra said outlining his plan to build a child-driven virtual school.

“I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries,” he said asking the global TED community to make his dream a reality with Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) in homes, schools, and community programmes worldwide.

The TED Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $1,000,000 and the TED community’s resources and expertise to spark global change.

According to TED, after a series of experiments revealed that groups of children can learn almost anything by themselves, Mitra began his pursuit to inspire children all over the world to get curious and work together.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering a slum in Kalkaji in south Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera).

Soon, they saw kids from the slum playing with the computer, learning English and searching through a wide variety of websites on science and other topics, and then teaching each other.

Mitra and his colleagues carried out experiments for over 13 years on the nature of self-organized learning, its extent, how it works and the role of adults in encouraging it.

Lara Stein, director of the TED Prize, said Mitra ” 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.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

IANS