How a TED Talk by Sugata Mitra inspired a 'school in the cloud' for Africa, and beyond…

Three and a half years ago, Katrin Macmillan watched the TED Prize 2013 talk by Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, in which he discussed his ‘Hole in the Wall’ research project and stated his ambition to build a ‘school in the cloud’. Mitra wanted to find out if children who have little or no access to education could educate themselves, simply by having access to the Internet. The children exceeded his expectations—and his TED talk became the inspiration and motivation for Katrin to start Project Hello World.

In response to Professor Mitra’s innovative concept of self-organised digital learning, Project Hello World developed a solar-powered outdoor Internet kiosk, the Hello Hub. Each Hub is WiFi-enabled and is loaded with educational software and applications. With unlimited access to state-of-the-art technology, children who lack formal schooling have an opportunity to shape their own learning and thereby create a brighter future for themselves, and their communities.

Because of its principles of community engagement, sustainability and open source sharing of its technical designs, Hello World challenges traditional notions of development work. The project has initiated a new approach to learning, with just one goal in mind: to end the education deficit across the globe.

Critical research on the impact of child-led digital learning and the Hello Hubs is still at an early stage. A new and important collaboration between Project Hello World and SOLE Central, Professor Mitra’s centre for research and practice at Newcastle University, will now enable ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the Hello Hubs and their impact on the communities they serve.

Sugata Mitra and Katrin Macmillan talk about child-led digital education and Project Hello World

SOLE Central ‘s work is based on fourteen years of research expertise which has shown that children with access to the Internet can learn almost anything. These self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) allow students to learn collaboratively using the Internet. They also provide invaluable data for future research and development.

This partnership will see SOLE Central experiment further with self-organised learning at established Hello Hub projects in African communities. The data on usage and educational attainment will be collected and analysed by the research experts at the University.

By this means SOLE and Project Hello World will create even more efficient Hello Hubs to provide children in developing countries with access to education. The process of refining and improving our work never ends. 

“This partnership is proof that sometimes all it takes to create real change is to respond to a bold call for a better world,” says Katrin Macmillan. “I saw Sugata Mitra on TED and, even though I didn’t know at that point how to reach a feasible system for universal education, I knew that we had to try. So we set out to answer Sugata's challenge to reach all children with a ‘school in the cloud’. Three years and five Hello Hubs later, we can say that we are on our way to achieving that goal.” 

To find out more about how Sugata’s TED Talk that inspired Project Hello World please read the blog post by Duncan McMillan, advisor to Projects For All.

About SOLE Central and the School in the Cloud Project: 

SOLE Central is the global hub for research and practice into self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) at Newcastle University, UK, bringing together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and entrepreneurs.

School in the Cloud is learning at the edge of chaos; a place where children come together to discover and explore self-organised learning (SOLE). It aims to inspire them to become creative and curious problem-solvers who have the confidence and skills they need to tap into the global network of knowledge. It is a project within SOLE Central.