Changing Planet

TED Prize Winner: Free-Up Kids to Teach Themselves

Sugata Mitra started out as a physicist programming computers, but is now reprogramming education, finding new ways to get children to teach themselves.

He is the recipient of the 2013 TED Prize, awarded last night at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California. In the video above he describes how he came to his innovative ideas and the amazing success he’s already seeing.

For nearly a decade, the prize has been a $100,000 award to “an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change.” This year, the prize has increased to $1 million. By also leveraging the connections made with the TED community of innovators and enthusiasts in technology, entertainment, design, and more, the prize aims to not just kick off the project, but to get others involved and really make it happen.

Sugata Mitra’s vision has a surprisingly small footprint. He’s going to build a school in the cloud. “I’m basically a teacher,” he says. “Although I should mention at the start that I have no formal knowledge of education as a subject.”

His vision is based on trials he did in India. He would put a computer in a slum and came back weeks later to find that local kids taught themselves how to use it, and even how to develop their English reading skills in order to do so. He would ask them a few questions and they would get right to solving it. This is what he wants to replicate.

With his TED Prize award, Sugata will set up more computers, as well as a network of volunteer “grannies” who will be available one hour a week to skype the students and nudge them forward the way grandmothers tend to: by being impressed with their progress and curiously asking questions that will propel them forward.

From his individual efforts so far, his model of encouraging students to participate in what he calls “self-organized learning” has spread to hundreds of schools so far.

“It’s not about making learning happen,” he said. “It’s about letting learning happen.”

Watch Sugata’s presentation above, and read all Nat Geo News Watch posts from TED 2013.

NEXT: Explore Nat Geo Lesson Plans for Teachers, Families, and Kids

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. He is currently beginning a new role as communications director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history.
  • Debbie

    Awesome! And to think, all it took was an Indian slum, a computer, and the internet to prove that Socrates had it right all along. 🙂

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