Cloud ghost schools

In February Prof Sugata Mitra picked up a $1m prize in LA from TED. What exactly this bloke called Ted was doing in La La land is not totally clear but although he himself comes from Cloud Cuckoo land he is clearly a generous sort.

Thus ended my attempt to explain Cloud Schools and the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference to my mum. Why did I bother? Well simply because Prof Mitra is going to staff his Cloud School with grannies so I thought she might be interested.

To be fair the Prof too has had problems communicating his vision to his target demographic who are now convinced he is hiring ghosts to teach their children. Grannies or ghosts, so far so hilarious but this is a seriously important project.

You see Prof Mitra regards it as self-evident that access to the Internet is the key to accessing education for those that cannot access it locally, either because their are no schools, few or no good teachers and even no safe roads. More radically he believes that children can educate themselves if given access to technology ... ok with a little guidance later on, hence the grannies.

He has form. In 1999 he installed hole in the wall computers in a few Indian slums and watched in amazement as the children found their way around them unaided.

This summer at TEDglobal in Edinburgh he explains how his new Cloud Schools will work.

We’ll take futuristic glass kiosks powered by solar cells up mountain with satellite uplinks and other techy paraphernalia for granted. This is all fun stuff and the NSA will no doubt get joy from tracking remote terrorists accessing Wikipedia or posting ‘selfies’ on Facebook but the real genius is as follows.

  • Most teachers are retired. In the UK there are more qualified teachers not teaching than are practicing the profession. Some of the retirees are still sane, have huge amounts of knowledge about stuff and know how to guide children...better still they are cheap to hire.Children are better at teaching themselves than schools are at teaching children.
  • Prof Mitra knows that his test 300 will spend their days, at first, just playing games. He also knows that they will move onto more and more complicated things, just because that’s what they do. No-one who grew up in the early PC days can gainsay him. From Turing to Torvalds we have a class of self-taught technocrats.

If you remain skeptical just look at our attempts to teach computers, ICT and science in schools. Abject failure. Is there a clue here?

  • At a certain point in development a student needs access to an expert, a mentor, a guru. Schools cannot guarantee to have one on their books but the Cloud School can. MIT’s EdX project is living proof of their thirst for access to expertise.

This is a project worth watching. I am sure that it will be a roaring success. I am also sure that it will produce results that we cannot anticipate. Good luck to the ghosts and grannies in the clouds say I.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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