TED 2013: UK educationalist wins TED prize

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

image captionSugata Mitra accepted his prize on the TED stage

A UK educationalist with radical ideas about the future of education has won a coveted $1m (£658,000) award.

The annual TED prize, handed out by organisers of the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, has gone Dr Sugata Mitra, from Newcastle University.

He promised to use the money to "build a school in the cloud".

Dr Mitra is most famous for hole-in-the-wall computers which he put in the slums of India.

The experiment, begun in 1999, has spurred imitations all over the world and helped inspire the book Q&A which was later turned into the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

The machines came with no instructions but children quickly learnt to use them.

The project led Dr Mitra to set up the Granny Cloud, which uses volunteers - usually retired people - in the UK to teach Indian children via Skype's video chat software.

He has since gone on to experiment with the idea of self-learning, offering software to children living in remote parts of India so that they can teach themselves.

Computing innovations

Accepting his prize, Dr Mitra said: "In an ideal world, we would have great schools with great teachers absolutely everywhere. Yet the reality is that there will always be places where good teachers cannot or will not go.

"If we are going to level the education playing field around the world, we need an alternative system that also prepares children to enter a technology driven workplace."

The answer, he said, is an internet-based school.

"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," he said.

He plans for a network of retired teachers to offer tuition via webcams. In addition, a real-world school will be built in India offering children a place to receive the remote lessons, and it well also serve as a research centre into self-directed learning.

Prof Chris Brink, vice-chancellor of Newcastle University said: "This is a tremendous honour for Sugata. He has dedicated over 20 years of his research career to improving the lives and opportunities of some of the world's poorest people through his innovations in computing."

Previous TED prize winners include Bill Clinton, chef Jamie Oliver and musician Bono.

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