Sugata Mitra, an Indian innovator in the education field, has been awarded the $1 million TED Prize for his bold idea in making computer-based education more accessible to children.

TED called Mitra’s “Hole In The Wall” project an “innovative and bold efforts towards advancing learning for children”. Mitra and his colleagues on this project dug a hole in a wall near a Delhi slum in 1999. The team then installed a web-enabled computer and left it there. The project’s aim was to show that children can learn almost anything without the need for a classroom environment or a mentor or teacher.

Sugata Mitra won a million-dollar prize for his work in the education field (Image credit: TED)

Sugata Mitra won a million-dollar prize for his work in the education field (Image credit: TED)

TED, which announced the award at its conference in California, said, “Sugata 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.

Mitra announced his next big project on the TED website, which would be funded by the prize money. The “School in the Cloud” project will introduce a new method of educating kids in India, one where children can gather information, learn concepts and be influenced by mentors and teachers online. At the TED2013 conference, Mitra implored the global education community to pitch in with their own self-learning experiments to make his dream come true and shift the educational paradigm.

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. 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. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries,” Mitra said.

While accepting the award, Mitra shared an anecdote with the audience. “A little girl was following me around. I said, ‘I want to give a computer to everyone.’ She reached out her hand and she said to me, ‘Get on with it.’

After installing the PC in the hole, Mitra and his colleagues monitored through a hidden camera how kids reacted to the experiment. What they saw was kids from the nearby slum playing with the PC, searching several websites for topics related to science, learning English and then proceeding to teach others.

The 13-year experiment focussed on how far self-organised learning could go and the role of adults in encouraging children to learn by themselves rather than in a classroom.

The TED Prize is awarded annually, since 2005, to an exceptional individual who receives a million dollars plus the expertise and resources of TED community to spark a large-scale change in their desired field.

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