Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Technology - Cloud Schools Form with 'Granny' Army: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Technology - Cloud Schools Form with 'Granny' Army: News

Article excerpt

Pioneer Sugata Mitra drafts in retired teachers for $1m project.

A futuristic $1 million experiment into learning without teachers is to take place in the mangrove swamps and urban slums of India - and in a new town in England, TES can reveal.

Professor Sugata Mitra believes that his "schools in the cloud", designed to allow groups of children to teach themselves using the internet, could trigger large and fast improvements in students' English reading comprehension. "We must not assume that the only way they can learn to read is the way they are learning now," the Newcastle University academic said. "Maybe they can learn to read by themselves."

He will test the idea in seven "cloud schools", funded by the $1 million (Pounds 670,000) TED prize he won this year. Five will be in his native India - two in city slums and three in remote villages - and another two will be in secondary schools in Killingworth and Newton Aycliffe in the North East of England.

Professor Mitra is building on his famous 1999 "Hole in the Wall" experiment, in which he installed an internet-connected, child-height computer in the wall of a Delhi slum. Children worked out its functions for themselves, leading to Professor Mitra's idea of a self-organised learning environment, or Sole.

Now he is marrying this with another concept that he has pioneered - the "granny cloud" - to create "cloud schools". The idea is that retired professionals, or "grannies", from four continents can connect to a Sole via Skype.

Their role will be to suggest research topics to children and encourage and praise their learning, without actually teaching them. Professor Mitra hopes that the grannies will be able to supervise everything in the cloud schools remotely, including physical features such as lights and windows.

"It means I could make these anywhere, wherever I had access to the internet," he said. "And I could run them with a well-meaning adult who doesn't have to know anything, whose job is to ensure health and safety."

The cloud schools will be known as Areas 0-6 (see panel, left) - "a nice sci-fiway of numbering them", according to Professor Mitra. Their physical structures will vary. The most ambitious and expensive, Area 0, will be a hexagonal glass pod. Area 1 - the most remote, in the Ganges Delta - will be built from mud and grass.

The two cloud schools in England will be housed in specially adapted rooms in existing schools.

"What they will all have in common is they will be high visibility," Professor Mitra said. "Hopefully, if you are near them you will be able to see everything inside. That is very important for everything to do with children. …

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