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Newcastle University professor wins $1m TED prize


Professor Sugata Mitra, whose research inspired the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, has been named the 2013 TED Prize winner.

The professor of educational technology, who has used the slums of India to show that children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn freely using computers has become the first $1m prize winner in TED prize's eight-year history.   

The TED Prize grants its winner $1m for ‘A wish that can inspire the world’. Professor Mitra’s ‘wish’ is:

'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 the global community to create their own miniature child-driven learning environments and share their discoveries. '

Following in the footsteps of previous TED Prize winners: Bill Clinton, Jamie Oliver and Bono, Professor Mitra’s ‘wish’ will allow him to tap into the vast TED network to further his research and ensure that access to learning transcends cultural, economic and geographical boundaries.

Professor Mitra explains:  “In 1999, I accidentally glimpsed The Cloud through an experiment often called ‘the hole in the wall’. I found that groups of Indian street children would learn to use computers and the internet by themselves, with little or no knowledge of English and never having seen a computer before.

"During the next five years, in the course of many experiments, I learned that groups of children can complete educational objectives by themselves, using the internet, if you leave them alone. By 2009, thanks to advances in technology, it was possible to ‘beam’ teachers to places where they could not, or did not want, to go, and so I created a ‘granny cloud’ of retired school teachers who would encourage children to learn by themselves.

 “By 2012, teachers around the world were using SOLEs – self-organised learning environments – where children would group around internet connections to discuss Big Questions. The teacher would merge into the background, and watch as the learning happened.

“We need a curriculum of Big Questions, a pedagogy of self-organised learning, examinations where children can talk, share and use the internet, and new peer assessment systems.

“My ‘wish that can inspire the world’ will enable me to further this work by involving partners across the TED network which extends across the globe. If this works, we will have an alternative system that will level the playing field."

The TED Prize Award was announced at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California yesterday.

Professor Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University, said: “This is a tremendous honour for Sugata. He has dedicated over 20 years of his research career into improving the lives and opportunities of some of the world’s poorest people through his innovations in computing.

“He was the instigator of the Hole in the Wall experiments when a computer was embedded within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi in 1999. The experiment has since been repeated at many places and has left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Sugata's experiment and was inspired to write his debut novel that went on to become the Oscar winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

“Newcastle University has a strong track in the field of education research and this TED Prize will enable us to further that with the support of a global community.”  

 James Tooley, Professor of Education Policy at Newcastle University, added: “With this richly-deserved prize, Sugata can realize his remarkable vision of self-organised learning, to transform opportunities for millions of poor children across the world.”

Watch the video of Professor Sugata Mitra making his ‘wish’ at the TED Conference.


published on: 26 February 2013