Known for his ‘Hole in the Wall’ initiative, which demonstrated the huge potential of self-guided learning by putting internet ready computers in the concrete walls of Delhi slums and seeing what the kids there learnt, Sugata Mirta is increasingly becoming the spokesperson for the role of technology in education development. In his TED prize-winning speech last week, he took this vision a step further, suggesting that we build a ‘School in the Cloud’.
In his earlier projects, Mirta saw that kids were teaching themselves English in order to be able to operate search engines, and in many cases showing real growth in their traditional academic outcomes at school. In this talk, he reflects on the potential for the creation of a more structured ‘Self-Organising Learning Environment’ (SOLE) which is able to respond to a particular learner’s needs, adapting the experience to their levels of learning competency.
Technology to facilitate this kind of experience already exists in education (particularly in higher education), although it is much more refined in the arenas of online gaming and advertising. But we should be wary in our assumption that algorithms can solve all learning needs. Perhaps the most edifying aspect of Mirta’s presentation is his recourse to the ‘Granny Cloud’, whereby grandmothers with time on their hands skype live instructional support to kids struggling with a problem in front of the hole in the wall.
The potential of technological progress should not blind us to the moral questions of the role of education in society. Even with a school in the cloud, we will still need teachers. The real question is to ask what kind of hybrid model will get the best out of both.