School in the Cloud Takes Flight
“The role of a granny in a family is . . . [to be] uncritical and . . . encouraging,” said Jackie Barrow (in a video), a volunteer with the e-monitor service Granny Cloud. From her home in Diggle (England), Barrow uses Skype to talk to children thousands of miles away in India. The program is a component of the global “School in the Cloud,” created by the educational technology professor, Sugata Mitra.

In 1999, Mitra was teaching computer programming in New Delhi, India. From his classroom window, he noticed children from a slum playing in the street. As an experiment, he carved out a hole in the school’s wall and installed a computer monitor. Several weeks later, he returned and queried the street children about the computer. Much to his surprise, they answered him in English, a language they’d learned from the internet.

Over the following decade, Mitra repeated this hole-in-the-wall model in several locations throughout India with great success. Mitra believes that if you provide children with internet technology, their curiosity and wonder will propel them to teach themselves. Over time, he recognized children performed better if an adult figuratively looked over their shoulder and praised them. He compared this guidance to a grandmother who gives loving, non-judgmental admiration. It also helped if the grandmother archetype spoke English, the language of the web. So he enlisted an army of British volunteers through the Granny Cloud.

In 2013, Mitra won a U.S. $1 million TED prize, allowing him to expand his School in the Cloud to Asia and Africa. According to Mitra, the encouragement, not the criticism, is the key to his “self-organized” learning approach.

Mitra believes modern schools are modeled on the principles of the British Empire to uniformly educate people when they are placed around the globe to perform similar tasks. That construct is outdated in today’s world where informational speed, creative thinking and innovation are paramount.

A cornerstone of the Victorian school model is instruction by fear. Testing, a threat of failure and punishment can trigger panic in the human brain. Sensing fear and attack, kids’ cognitive thinking may lockdown when they go into a flight-or-fight response.

The ideology of School in the Cloud propels children forward by tapping into their natural curiosity. The key is to advise adults to step back and leave students alone with technology to answer open-ended questions, such as “Can you kill a goat by staring at it?”

Mitra is not without his critics. Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University, skeptically refers to Mitra’s approach as “magical thinking.” He claims increased technology in education produces tepid results. In the One Laptop Per Child project in Peru, there was no increase in math or language skills and small benefits in cognitive thinking.

An online learning expert, Donald Clark, goes further. Clark outlines seven problems with Mitra’s work in his blog, “Plan B.” His criticisms include lack of objective, quantitative analysis of results, a coziness with e-learning benefactors and theft of monitors.

Supporters of the School in the Cloud point to Mitra’s outreach to unprivileged children in remote corners of the world where no schooling exists. And there is something to be said for the rapport that Jackie Barrow and the granny army are building with their students. Barrow often opens her e-mentoring sessions with jokes, stories or pictures of English gardens.

“You can’t catch me!” she reads from the Gingerman fairy tale.

“You can’t catch me!” her children repeat with delight and enthusiasm.

“Well done! Very good!” Barrow croons. Indeed, the children’s happiness transcends across the long distance connection.

Sue Anger

Photo: Flickr

Green WiFi, a nonprofit organization based in California, uses solar power to create WiFi to help fix the gap between the digitally literate and people who do not have access to digital educational materials. Formed in 2010, the organization has successfully helped many people living in poverty gain control of their education and advance toward the digital world.

There are about three billion people under the age of 15 living in developing nations, which amounts to 42 percent of the world’s population living in developing nations. Green WiFi was created on the idea that the welfare of our future is dependent on providing these children with access to the internet, or, in other words, access to the world’s information.

The organization challenges the high costs of supplying people with WiFi by relying on natural energy. Combining low-cost components, solar power technologies, Java and open-source software, Green WiFi has been able to create a WiFi grid network that is self-sustaining and easy to set up. The biggest issue with deploying free WiFi in developing nations has been electricity, an obstacle that the organization overcomes with solar energy. Green WiFi requires no power or system integrations.

To create a solar powered WiFi grid, Green WiFi puts together a 10-watt solar power grid, router, solar charge controller and communication links, plus a solar gel battery for each grid.

Green WiFi has completed global projects in Haiti, Hawaii, Senegal and multiple regions in Latin America. The organization is formed entirely by volunteers, including CEO and founder Bruce Baikie, vice president of engineering Parag Mody and a group of advisors who come together to help increase education around the world. Along with providing impoverished communities with WiFi, these volunteers also work toward providing them with computers and other technology.

In 2011, Green WiFi worked together with a group of students from the Illinois Institute of Technology to provide children in Haiti with WiFi and computers. They were able to successfully get 500 laptops up and running at a school in Lascahobas, Haiti.

Green Wi-Fi also participates with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a collaboration project involving the UN and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is dedicated to raising money and providing affordable computer technologies to those in need. It works by providing children with low-cost, low-powered and rugged connected laptops. These laptops are designed by members of OLPC with the hopes of giving children the power to enhance their education in a joyful and self-empowered way. Another initiative Green WiFi collaborates with is Intel’s World Ahead Program. Similar to OLPC, this program works to donate computers to developing regions.

An article in the Chicago Tribune details the need for WiFi and computers in developing nations. Green WiFi is currently tackling that need and is working on projects in Africa and Latin America.

– Julia Hettiger

Sources: Chicago Tribune, One Laptop per Child, Green WiFi
Photo: Facts and Details

One Laptop Per Child
Uruguay was the first country in the world to provide a laptop to every primary school student. Plan Ceibal, Uruguay’s national One Laptop Per Child project, provided an XO laptop to each of the 395,000 children in first through sixth grades. The acronym Ceibal stands for Basic Informatic Educative Connectivity for Online Learning (Conectividad Educativa de Informática Básica para el Aprendizaje en Línea).

One Laptop Per Child, a non-profit based in Massachusetts, strives to provide each child in developing nations with a low-cost, low-power laptop. Through this technology, children become more engaged in their education and more connected to one another. The laptops are designed to be highly power efficient, with the ability to use solar power, generators, wind power or water power.

“This is not simply the handing out of laptops or an education program. It is a program which seeks to reduce the gap between the digital world and the world of knowledge,” Miguel Brechner explained, director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay and in charge of Plan Ceibal.

In Uruguay, the Plan Ceibal program has a cost of $260 per child, including maintenance costs, equipment repairs, teacher training and internet connection. The total figure represents less than 5 % of the country’s education budget.

The XO laptops, with Linux operating software, can connect directly to one another, meaning that a single point of access can be shared among a community of XO users.

Education in Uruguay is among the best of the Latin American countries. Uruguay has one of the highest adult literacy rates of all of Latin America. Elementary education is mandatory and free; secondary and technical education are also free. As the first country to implement a One Laptop Per Child program, Uruguay is setting the model for other countries, such as Rwanda, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru, which have all adapted a One Laptop Per Child program.

Haley Sklut

Sources: One Laptop Per Child, Sources: BBC
Photo: Kit Guru