When Professor Sugata Mitra wanted to attend the inauguration of a new Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) in India, he simply turned on his computer and logged onto Skype. He even managed to cut a ribbon to celebrate the event live from his office in Newcastle.
Skype* plays a central role in Professor Mitra’s current work to raise children’s aspirations and get good teaching into remote locations both here and abroad.
The new SOLE in Shirgaon includes video conferencing options, broadband access and nine computers accessible inside the facility with a further two outside. It will accommodate up to 36 children, with four at each computer (the ideal group size for self-learning).
Children will use games, quiz programs, web surfing and Skype interaction with teachers abroad to expand their knowledge.
“Competition drives the learning process, while self organization provides the means, and the absence of authority figures enables the children to experiment with knowledge without fear of reprisal or assessment,” explained Professor Mitra.
The students will be able to request help from teachers located abroad who are using broadband access and web cameras and volunteer for one hour every week. To date, over 200 highly skilled teachers have responded to a media call for volunteers.
“A web based calendar tells children about the mediators available, their subject areas and the time they will be online,” said Professor Mitra. “It will be left to the children to select and use these mediators.
“We expect that, over a period of time, ‘favourite’ teachers will emerge and the process will self organize.”
The opening of the new unit, in the village of Shirgaon, Maharashtra, India, was the final part of the Orient Global Project, which began in late 2007.
Through this project, initiated by Professor James Tooley, SOLE educational facilities have been set up in remote areas of India to enable groups of children to teach themselves and pass government high school examinations on their own.
The 'hole in the wall' style facility outside the new SOLE in Shirgaon (pictured) is part of Professor Mitra's earlier experiments. It has just been refurbished with the help of a donation from a couple in the UK, who read about Professor Mitra’s work in the Guardian.
* Skype is an application which allows people across the world to see each other and talk for free over the Internet
Professor Sugata Mitra
published on: 10th June 2009