Newcastle University Professor Sugata Mitra opens final 'school in the cloud'

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

Professor Sugata Mitra
Professor Sugata Mitra

An academic who inspired the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire has opened his final “school in the cloud”.

Newcastle University’s Professor Sugata Mitra, who is renowned around the world for a number of pioneering education projects, has opened his final and flagship facility Area Zero in West Bengal, India.

The project, which sees children exploring and learning from each other by tapping into online mentors and resources, follows the opening of six other labs in the North East and India.

There are now five cloud classrooms in India and two North East schools; George Stephenson High School, in North Tyneside and Greenfield Community College in Newton Aycliffe.

Prof Mitra developed the school in the cloud concept from his 1999 “hole in the wall” experiment, in which he carved a hole from his research centre into an adjoining Delhi slum.

George Stephenson High, where the learning environment was an immediate hit with the children
George Stephenson High, where the learning environment was an immediate hit with the children

He placed a freely accessible computer in this hole and found that groups of Indian street children, with no prior experience or knowledge of English, could teach themselves how to use the computer.

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.

Speaking before the launch of Area Zero on Friday (January 9) Prof Mitra said: “I am incredibly excited to see this vision come to life.

“Area Zero is the first facility of its kind and I’m proud to bring it home to India.

“My objective for the flagship centre is for children to learn and engage while also examining and documenting the advantage of Self Organized Learning Environments.

Professor Sugata Mitra launching a learning environment at George Stephenson High Killingworth
Professor Sugata Mitra launching a learning environment at George Stephenson High Killingworth
 

“Here, children will be able to engage with teachers from around the world who can prompt them with big questions that encourage the exploration of a vast array of subjects.”

When Prof Mitra won the prestigious Ted prize in 2013 he decided to use the $1m prize money to follow through his school in the cloud concept.

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.

Area Zero is made almost entirely of glass, jutting out between two ponds with verandas on either side.

Its hexagonal shape represents two things; the chemical compound benzene, which consists of six carbon atoms joined in a ring, with one hydrogen atom attached to each of them and the basis of honeycomb.

Professor Sugata Mitra with children from St. Aidans School in Gateshead
Professor Sugata Mitra with children from St. Aidans School in Gateshead
 

“How bees create honeycomb is one of the best examples of a self-organized environment in nature,” said Prof Mitra.

“A single bee has no knowledge at all about how it works or comes together, but as a hive they can create this phenomenal structure.

“And the benzene ring is the basis of all organic life; without it there would be no life at all. I hope this symbolism inspires limitless learning in the lab.”

  • The official opening of Area Zero will take place on Friday, January 9.

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