Newcastle University’s Professor Sugata Mitra opens new 'school in the cloud'

The Newcastle University professor who inspired the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire has opened his first 'school in the cloud'

Professor Sugata Mitra
Professor Sugata Mitra

A Tyneside academic has opened his first “school in the cloud” - close to the place where he first made his name.

Newcastle University’s Professor Sugata Mitra, who has become renowned around the world for a number of pioneering education projects, has opened his new facility in the Government Girls School in Kalkaji, India.

The project - which will see children exploring and learning from each other by tapping into online mentors and resources - has opened opposite the “hole in the wall” where Prof Mitra put a computer 15 years ago and left it for children to use on their own.

The success of that project - which was outlined in a book that went on to inspire the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire - led Prof Mitra to explore the idea that children can often learn best when left to their own devices.

Last year that research saw Prof Mitra win the prestigious Ted prize, and he is using the $1m prize money to further research into his theories both in India and on Tyneside.

That research has led to more than 100 Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) being set up where children search for answers to “big” questions.

It has also inspired Self Organised Mediation Environments (SOMEs) – better known as the Granny Cloud - where children interact with online “grannies” to engage in a wide range of informal activities.

Prof Mitra said: “We already know that reading comprehension is likely to improve in the children taking part in these activities, but we do not know what else might happen in the process,” he explains.

“What we do know is that order emerges out of this creative chaos.

“In India, we will be looking at two things – whether the children can learn to read and also search the internet accurately by themselves. If they can do this, then it’s the end of schooling as we know it.”

The Kalkaji facility is the first of five new SOLEs to open in India.

There has been a small-scale experimental SOLE operating on the site for the past few years, set up thanks to a donation from London-based entrepreneur Richard Alberg, who heard Prof Mitra speak in 2011 and was inspired to help fund his research.

The primary aim of the scheme is to improve children’s reading comprehension and search skills and develop their confidence.

Prof Mitra teaches on Newcastle University’s MA International Development and Education degree programme.

As well as working with schools in West Bengal, New Delhi and Maharashtra, his research will also see work done at George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, North Tyneside and Greenfield Community College in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

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