An unlikely collaboration: two pioneers join forces to revolutionize education

Behind every great idea is a great collaboration. And when it comes to children’s education, there’s an exciting, albeit surprising, alliance being formed.

SinC meeting

Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise meets Sugata Mitra, Newcastle professor and TED Prize winner

2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra has joined forces with Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, in an initiative that uses Microsoft to revolutionize education through the power of technology. Office 365 is the catalyst that brought these two visionaries together through the new ‘Work Wonders Project,’ a new series of webisodes about collaboration.

Mitra – a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University and the man behind School in the Cloud -thinks schools are becoming obsolete. Braun – whose nonprofit organization trains teachers, funds scholarships, and has built 200 schools in places like Laos, Guatemala and Ghana- thinks traditional schools are the way forward.

Yet these two unlikely collaborators are committed to improving children’s learning in under-served communities around the world and are working together with Microsoft to amplify their efforts in a partnership that launched on Monday, when the first webisode in a three-part series went live.

“I’m highly impressed not only by the fact that [Adam] has built schools, many people do that, but that he’s made them sustainable,” says Mitra, who will bring his cloud-based, elementary education approach to three of Braun’s schools in Ghana later this year where they will pilot Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLES) using Microsoft products and services.

The opportunity will allow Mitra to the expand School in the Cloud platform, which was inspired by his belief that children are perfectly capable of teaching themselves almost anything when left to their own devices and access to a computer. He knew this from his 1999 “hole in the wall” experiment, in which he placed a free computer in a Delhi slum. To his surprise, groups of street children, with no knowledge of English, taught themselves not only how to use the computer but a new language.

Mitra is currently experimenting to understand the best practices for creating sustainable self-organized learning, the process where educators spark curiosity by asking children to explore a big question using the Internet and working together in small groups.

In the first webisode, Braun and Mitra discuss the technology needed to have a successful SOLE in a Pencils of Promise school in Ghana. To set up a SOLE, however, it’s rather simple. “Give those guys some bandwidth, and a computer, as we know what two-year-olds do with a tablet … until you enter the room,” Mitra tells Braun. “When you enter the room, they become babies again.”

In the second webisode, which will be released later this month, the two men decide to visit a school in New Jersey, where Braun could see the benefits of School in the Cloud and a SOLE in action with his own eyes.

It will be exciting to see where this partnership goes. Two brilliant minds, access to top-tier technology and a shared dedication to bringing education to the most remote, under-served parts of the world can only lead to good things.

Watch Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk»

Read more about School in the Cloud in India»

Read more about TED Prize-winning wishes»