How learning emerges from chaos in Argentina

Everywhere he goes, Sugata tests childrens’ limits with one aim in mind: to show there are really no limits on what they can achieve.

On his recent trip to Argentina, he put 6th grade students to the test at School 20 in the Barracas area to see if they could answer questions years ahead of their time. Similar challenges are being replicated all over the world, including at Greenfields SOLE lab in the UK last month.

SOLE Argentina has been piloting the SOLE approach at this location for just over four months, with the support of Buenos Aires’ Ministry of Education. So far, they have worked mainly on Big Questions linked into the curriculum.

On this occasion, Sugata took them to the next level by giving the children a question five or six years ahead of their time, similar to those required for university entrance courses.

This was the question: What is Fordism? Talk about this system and explain the causes of its decline.

No sugar-coating, no simplification of the language, no indication of any sources they should consult. And of course, Sugata’s standard tease: “This question is generally answered by 18-year-olds. Do you think you can answer it too?” Naturally, students are up for this new intellectual adventure.


With just five small netbooks to share among 18 children, the magic of collective knowledge construction begins. Students move around their desks, talk to each other and work hard for half an hour. When they encounter a problem, they turn to co-ordinator ‘Professor Rodrigo’ who was appointed to the role by his own classmates.

“Educational authorities present are a bit scared it won’t work, that students won’t understand the texts they encountered, but children prove otherwise when it’s their turn to speak and defend what they have learnt,” explains SOLE Argentina’s international relations director Mabel Quiroga.

“When it comes to feedback time some read from their notes in a loud voice, others are shy and let their group partners speak up but they all come up to the front of the class – it’s only fair that they share the credit of this big success.”

The 11 and 12-year-olds present concepts and central ideas one after the other with confidence and not a hint of pretension: assembly line, mass production, specialization, Toyotism…

George Aguado, from the Ministry of Education, was watching the process intently. He decided to find out the answer to what decision makers and educators in educational systems consider to be the most important question: “Have they really understood?” He asked two boys what they had really learned.

Their one simple and deep statement in response convinced him and all the people around:

“Ford’s system treated workers like slaves – it could never last,” they said. “It got replaced by a gentler Japanese-Korean system.”

George turned to Mariano, their teacher. “They have understood,” he said, awed. Watching learning emerge at the edge of chaos is indeed an awesome sight.

European researchers are ‘rethinking education’

SOLES are all about empowering children to take control of their own learning. Now researchers are hoping it can also work for young people at risk of dropping out of education altogether.

Early school leaving (ESL) is linked to unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty. While there are many reasons why young people decide to give up on education and training, such as family issues or learning difficulties, many simply become disengaged.

And as there is no single reason for early school leaving, there are also no easy answers. However, EUROSOLE, a new European-wide research project being led by Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, aims to come up with some workable solutions over the next three years.

Researchers will be exploring how a new approach to the problem – where young people rather than educators take a leading role in their education – can help foster a lifelong love of learning. It will build on the idea of ‘traditional’ SOLEs, where the emphasis is on stimulating curiosity and engagement in learning within a social and collaborative atmosphere.

“Many young people leave school early because they feel disengaged,” explains Dr Anne Preston, of Newcastle University’s SOLE Central, who is leading the project. “We know that a lack of active involvement in their own learning plays a key role in the high percentage of early school leavers in Europe. But if you change the balance of control between teachers and students you can alter these dynamics and come up with effective preventative measures to tackle the issue.”

One of the main aims of the project is to create four sustainable alternative SOLE spaces in Newcastle (UK), North Tyneside (UK), Dublin (Ireland) and Lahti (Finland) to test this alternative approach. These spaces will draw on the partners’ diverse but complementary approaches to education which straddles formal, non and in-formal learning.

“Young people’s engagement with what they are learning is central to how they learn,” says Dr Preston. “The SOLE approach is similar to personalised and student-led learning but its difference lies in its focus on creating a social, intellectual and academic space for learning to take place rather than prescribing specific teaching methods.

“Our challenge is to bring about a change in the role of the teacher from transmitter of knowledge to facilitator of learning, enabling us to literally ‘rethink education’ in the process.”

The project will also look at the quality and relevance of students’ skills and competences and how the SOLE approach can promote the kind of 21st century skills that will empower young people long after they leave school. One of the outcomes will be a set of handbooks for educators to help them facilitate a SOLE that will engage this particular audience, along with a guide to learning for change.

Recent reports into early school leaving (ESL) across Europe have highlighted an urgent need to better understand this issue and develop targeted, effective prevention and reduction measures.

European countries have committed to reducing the average share of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020. It currently varies across Europe from 3.9% in Slovenia to 23.6% in Spain with an average of 12% Europe-wide (Eurostat 2013).


SOLE Central, the global research hub into SOLE research and practice which Sugata heads up at Newcastle University, is leading this three-year project together with the University’s Open Lab and University of Dublin Trinity College (Ireland); Lahti University of Applied Sciences (Finland); Success4All CIC(UK); George Stephenson High School SOLE Lab (UK); and cvo Toekomstonderwijs ‘School of the Future’(Belgium).

EUROSOLE: Promoting Young People’s Transition Pathways Through Engagement in European Self-Organised Learning Spaces is funded through a grant of €391K from Erasmus+and will run until September 2018.

*Early school leavers are defined as 18-24-year-olds with at most lower secondary level education who have not progressed to any further education or training.

A promising new start

This September, for the first time in 14 years, Joe Jamison didn’t walk into his classroom excited for the new school year.

However, it’s not yet another disillusioned public school teacher story: Joe’s so fired up about education that he’s prepared to step way outside his comfort zone.

So much so that he’s done something he vowed he would never do – get an office job. Although granted it’s a little different from the norm: they’ve just put him on plane to West Africa.

Joe’s now working for Pencils of Promise (PoP) after a series of serendipitous events which began after he watched Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize talk.

“I saw Sugata’s talk and was blown away. I thought ‘Oh man, I have to find out how to do that in my classroom’,” he says. “So I took it, tweaked it and played with it a little and in the first week of the new school year in 2013 I just hit the ground running with my 5th graders. I was fortunate to have a lot of admin support behind me and the kids took to it very quickly – it just took off.”

Joe has worked closely with the School in the Cloud team at Newcastle University ever since and when it came to selecting a class to feature as part of the Work Wonders Project collaboration between Sugata, Microsoft and PoP, his was an obvious choice.

Once they’d see him in action running a SOLE with students at Lawrence Intermediate School in New Jersey, USA the PoP team wanted Joe onboard to help set up SOLEs (self organised learning environments) in their schools in Ghana.

When I spoke to him last week he was about to embark on his first trip outside of North America, to West Africa. He left last Saturday on a six-day trip to the Volta region, where he will be visiting new build sites and running teacher training sessions as well as SOLEs. There are two schools in Ghana – in Toklokpo and Agorhome – where SOLEs have been piloted with 5th and 6th graders since January 2014.

“I’ve tried Googling the places I’m visiting but they’re so remote they don’t show up,” says Joe. “It just hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m going as it’s so far removed from anything I’ve ever experienced. Pencils of Promise is doing some pretty innovative work there and I’m just excited to get my feet on the ground and get my hands dirty.”

Joe’s school district has given him a year of absence to take up the position. “They’ve been so supportive and generous about letting me go and work for someone else because they knew I had to do this,” he says. “I knew in my heart of hearts this was something I couldn’t pass up and I feel so blessed to be here and have this opportunity. Here I am working on something so awesome that I feel so passionate about – it’s certainly not an everyday office job.”

But it wasn’t a decision he took lightly. Joe told me the contract sat on his desk for over a week before he signed it. He knew it would mean a long daily commute between his home in Pennsylvania and New York (a journey made more bearable as his wife works for Amtrak, the national US passenger train service, so he can be door to door in about one and a half hours) as well as time abroad away from his wife and young family.

“In the end it was my wife who said ‘What is that still doing on your desk? Just sign it, you have to do this – we’ll find a way to work it out,” says Joe. “She’s been unbelievably supportive. One thing the SOLE process has taught me more than anything is that no meaningful learning ever takes place inside of your comfort zone. I saw this as an opportunity for me to learn and grow both as a person and a professional. I want my kids to be able to look at what their Dad’s doing and give them a more global view of the world.”


Joe says the work in Ghana is going to ‘change the way they think about education forever’. He explained how it is opening teachers up to resources they didn’t even know existed. “I’m used to being able to drop everything and do a SOLE whenever I feel like it,” he says. “In Ghana, we turn up with tablets and hotspots on a schedule, so that will take some of the spontaneity out of it, but it is still workable. As they know when we’re coming, they can work it into teaching the curriculum.”

Although teaching methods in West Africa are more traditional than Joe is used to, he’s not phased by the prospect. “I don’t think teaching culture is so different across the world,” he says. “I’ve worked with some pretty old-school teachers in the US who wonder what on earth I’m doing. I’ve always thought the biggest obstacle to SOLE working is the teachers themselves.”

Joe concedes it’s hard for any teacher to step back and let the kids take the lead and that many feel threatened by someone like Sugata coming along. “It’s not his plan to replace teachers as some think – he’s said they are 100% necessary to steer the process,” says Joe. “What is needed, is for teachers to change how they do things. When something like SOLE comes along it really does raise the bar in a good way and shakes it up. I’ve seen the results and I think teachers just have to be excited.”

While out in Ghana, Joe will also be seeing the results of PoP’s e-reader pilots to improve English acquisition at primary schools, which is now being expanded to serve 3,000 students at 28 PoP schools. Children are measured using the standard EGRA(Early Grade Reading Assessment) indicator and will also be tested on how much they later retain of the concepts they are taught, with SOLE methods now being integrated into the learning.

One thing Joe is making sure is definitely in his carry-on is his laptop, so he can Skype his family. He says being apart from them will be the hardest part, but that he realises he’s a man on a mission. “Ever since high school I’ve wanted to make an impact,” he says. “I don’t care if people remember me. I just want the impact I made to be remembered.”

Follow Joe on Twitter @josephmjamison
Main photo credit: Natasha Scripture, TED.

It’s time to ask SOLE-searching questions

SOLE researchers are getting ready to ‘hack’ the largest education research conference in the UK.

As far as we know, this is the first time that self organized learning has been integrated in this way and it’s likely to come as a bit of a surprise to many delegates at the BERA (British Educational Research Association) conference in Northern Ireland this week.

Gone will be the traditional conference set-up of an attentive audience listening to an authoritative speaker, replaced instead with an audience-led exploration of the technology/pedagogy divide.

Getting down with the kids: a self organized conference session is being led by SOLE Central research fellow Dr Anne Preston.
 Participants will be choosing one of three Big Questions put forward on social media in the lead up to the conference. “Who knows what might happen?” says Anne. “It’s likely, in true SOLE style, to descend into total chaos for a while, but hopefully something meaningful will emerge by the end of it all.”

The idea for this session originally stemmed from the reaction to a keynote given by Sugata Mitra last year at the IATEFL conference. Many English language teaching professionals in the audience notoriously walked out when he suggested that in future teaching would be redundant.

“While we have readily embraced most of what the Internet has to offer with hardly a murmur of dissent, when someone suggests it can also be used to help children teach themselves, it causes a lot of soul searching (no pun intended!) from a fair few educationalists,” says Anne.

So who is right and who is wrong? The indignant teachers or the professor who leads SOLE Central at Newcastle University, a team dedicated to bringing together researchers, practitioners, policy makers and entrepreneurs to expand upon his original research?

Anne says there are plenty of challenging questions around SOLE at the moment, such as how its outcomes can be tested and evaluated.

“Sugata has spoken on numerous occasions about the science behind SOLE, which is based on the notion of a self-organising system – a concept that comes out of maths and physics which is that if you allow a system to be chaotic then, under certain circumstances, you get spontaneous order,” she says.

“One of the problems with researching a self-organising system is that it doesn’t actually exist in a state that can be ‘empirically’ probed,” explains Anne. “This becomes clearer by comparing the self-organising system of a SOLE to the study of systems in the field of quantum mechanics, where it is impossible to measure a system without disturbing it. Even when disturbed, it’s hard to locate the point at which this occurs.”


Many schools are struggling with issues around whether technology or pedagogy should take the lead in the creation of the 21st century classroom. From a personal viewpoint, Anne’s keen to use SOLE as a basis to investigate the role technology can play to spark deeper discussions about the pedagogical implications of digital technology.

Those attending the conference are being given the chance to add to the debate on Thursday 17 September when practitioners and researchers from SOLE Central will be initiating the audience-led innovation session, SOLE style.

You may have already seen some of the traffic on our Facebook and Twitter channels to decide on the Big Question up for debate and it has been narrowed down to these three, with one being chosen on the day:

  • Should we give children access to the #internet during examinations?
  • How can we ensure student’s and teacher’s right to privacy when expanding #edtech in #education?
  • What could #edtech offer to children and communities in a time of global refugee crisis?

Why not join in the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #BigQuestionBERA ?

Changing education in Colombia

“The SOLE community in Colombia is growing. We know something big is coming, and we know this is the paradigm shift our education needs to empower children all over the country.”

That’s the words of Sanjay Fernandes, speaking about the amazing progress that has been made in Colombia in a matter of months.

SOLEs started running in Colombia last year, with incredibly positive results: over 70 sessions took place in public libraries and kiosks in rural areas, supported by 20 SOLE ‘ambassadors’.

This year the SOLE team decided it was time to expand to allow people of all ages to participate in this life-changing learning experience throughout the country.

And they have some powerful allies on board: the Ministry of Technologies and the Ministry of Culture and Colciencias (the government agency responsible for science, technology and innovation). “Their support has been tremendous and working together with them we plan to run SOLEs with over 150,000 children in schools, libraries and public kiosks in rural and urban areas,” says Sanjay.

They are currently at the design stage of this year’s project, including everything they learned from last year’s pilot to make sure SOLEs can adapt to Colombia’s cultural requirements.


This process involves designing educational tools that allow SOLEs to occur organically, without the need for constant follow-ups, but rather as a method that allows people to discover the answers they need to improve their living standards on their own.

“It is equally important to develop a system in which we are able to receive their data to both measure the impact of SOLE and what needs to be done to improve next year,” explains Sanjay. “Our purpose is to find a way in which SOLE becomes a life-changing agent within their communities, engaging with people from all ages and contexts to empower them as curious beings capable of achieving whatever they dream of.

“We are glad to be a part of this global experiment, changing the world little by little.”

The growing SOLE Colombia team has some new members onboard to help them achieve their goals. Designer Adriana Santamaria is helping them develop products for the educational kits which can create successful, fun and life-changing experiences. Digital anthropologist Sebastian Cuervo is sharing SOLE stories and contacting everyone in the community to make sure their voices are heard and to remind them that their work is an essential part of making this global experiment work.

Producer and administrator, Rocío Monroy is responsible for all the operations handling and logistics to co-ordinate four SOLE ambassadors sharing the methodology in rural areas. They also have constant support from Tatiana Fajardo who ensures SOLEs runs smoothly and second producer Dominga Argel, who works on logistics, follow-ups and generally helping everyone out in the office.

As the initiative has been so well-received in Colombia, the team have been invited to Colombia 3.0 this week, a three-day digital fair designed to demonstrate ways in which technologies can benefit societies. They launched this year’s project there yesterday (Sept 9) and are running SOLEs daily to demonstrate that when children have a real interest in what they are doing, education happens naturally.

Catch up with SOLE Colombia on Facebook and Twitter.

Being a ‘granny’ is not as easy as it might look

The Granny Cloud has been up and running since 2009 when Sugata first put out an appeal in a UK newspaper for grandmothers with a spare hour a week who would like to talk to children in India and help them with their English skills.

There are a handful of loyal stalwarts still remaining from those early days, many of whom form a self-organised core team to help to recruit, interview and advise new recruits.

But there are far more who have fallen by the wayside, often daunted by the prospect of actually being a School in the Cloud granny once reality sets in.

Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, research director for School in the Cloud based in India, says she can completely understand how they feel. “It can seem completely overwhelming to start with,” she admits.

“There’s a lot more tech available now than when we first started and I know that can put some people off, but this is not the crux of the interaction. If you’re comfortable with it, then use it by all means, but it may actually hinder the process if it’s a brand new group not used to computers or the English language.

“It’s really just about chatting with the children about whatever takes your, and their, fancy. When you start with a new group you need to get a feel for their environment, who they are and what they like. I’d always say don’t go in with a plan – just go with it. Just say ‘hi’ and take it from there. At the end of the day, the primary aim is to have fun, and that goes for the granny as well as the children!”

Suneeta often advises new grannies to think of those initial sessions as a bit like turning up at a family gathering where there just happens to be a group of children who are really keen to talk to you!


Jerry Rothwell, the School in the Cloud film

Conversation is key to these interactions and each granny has his or her own style – that’s what makes it so interesting for the children at the other end of the connection. Some like to read stories, others create craft activities or even tell jokes. 

There are grannies who like using online activities such as puzzles or videos to start a discussion, and others who experiment with new resources as they are developed, but often plain flash cards work just as well (and sometimes better, especially when there is limited connectivity).

“This shows the robustness of the interaction,” explains Suneeta. “You might be doing something most other people wouldn’t think twice of doing but it still seems to work. It’s important to find your own comfort zone – some work better with older children and are happy discussing a wide range of complex topics, others are more comfortable with younger groups.”

Suneeta, who is out of her own comfort zone when it comes to water, uses her own fear as an analogy for new grannies finding themselves worried about jumping in at the deep end. “Sometimes it’s just a question of getting in,” she says. “I’m scared of swimming but wouldn’t mind sitting on the edge and splashing my feet in. You can always wade in – you don’t need to dive.”

The Granny Cloud could do with more male role models as they give a different dimension to the interaction. Suneeta says often male grannies are more likely to not feel that confident dealing with the children, but they’re actually doing a great job and the children love chatting with them.

These dedicated individuals are doing something positive and contributing to these children in a way we cannot yet fully appreciate – only time will tell. But even this early on, educators can already see the children’s search skills improving with just one session a week, so it is already making a difference.

The grannies share their sessions on Facebook and on a learning blog, which is designed to help with feedback and ideas as well as helping with ongoing research to understand better how this all works. 

However, it can sometimes add to the feeling of being overwhelmed, as less confident or new grannies may feel they cannot possibly do anything like that. “It’s not about making people inadequate, simply a case of ‘this is what I did and it might help others’,” explains Suneeta.

“Each granny is different and each group of children is too – that’s what makes it fun. You have to find what suits you and just go with it without worrying about what somebody else might be doing. And if you’re ever stuck or overwhelmed, there’s usually one of us online who would be happy to chat with you and share our expertise.”

Turning the art world on its head

It’s not enough to turn the education system upside down: SOLE is about to enter a world many of us consider off-limits.

Contemporary art is often portrayed as an elitist world full of large canvases with coloured dots and hefty price tags, but Helen Burns believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

The SOLE Central research fellow has spent her career helping children and adults explore their creativity through contemporary art and now she’s applying all she’s learnt so far to a new exciting project.

Gallery in the Cloud will give school children and other gallery audiences the chance to become curators of their own contemporary art galleries. Supported by the SOLE method of learning collaboratively in groups, they will create digital artworks inspired by their own experiences that will reflect their own individual identities.

The resulting art collection will be self-curated, using cloud-based technology to create an ever-evolving gallery.

“It challenges the usual conventions of a gallery space and turns the concept of an ‘art world’ on its head, focussing instead on the ‘experience’ of art, which is accessible to everyone,’ says Helen.

Turning art world on its head - robot

This dented war robot (above) is from one of Helen’s previous art-based learning projects. The child who made it said it represented their experience of learning as ‘battered, but not giving up’

Helen is focussing initially on children at transitional periods in their education, such as SATs. “These are tough times for them,” she says. “A combination of the skills and resilience gained through creating contemporary art using SOLE could have a really positive effect on their ability to cope when they’ve got a lot to deal with.

“SOLE pedagogy and contemporary art actually have a lot in common as they can both be good vehicles for developing your own ‘voice’ and there are no wrong answers.”

The artists will be able to constantly revisit their artwork over several years, giving them the opportunity to expand and reflect on what they have already achieved.

As part of this initial development stage, Helen has been in discussion with the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. She would also like to collect ideas, opinions and questions about the project from the School in the Cloud community to help take it forward.

We’ll be re-visiting this story on social media next year, but if you would like contact Helen in the meantime, she can be reached by email.

About Helen
After graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Helen spent 10 years working as an Artist Educator in school and community settings in Scotland and the North East.

Since completing a MA in Library and Information Management, she has worked in cultural and creative education for organisations such as the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Tyne and Wear Museums.

Formerly a Research Associate at Durham University, Helen is now a SOLE Central Research Fellow at Newcastle University, where she is bringing together SOLE pedagogy and arts-based learning practice. She also teaches art, craft and design on the University’s Primary PGCE course for trainee teachers.

How to make a jam sandwich, SOLE style

If the average adult sat down to work out how to teach basic coding, they probably wouldn’t naturally think of a jam sandwich.

But that’s exactly what this SOLE group of home schoolers did with their presentation to computer science teachers.

Anna the (real life) robot was given a set of instructions to follow to make the sandwich, which may have resulted in a lot of mess, but certainly got the message across about how to teach the subject far more effectively than a textbook.

Jacqueline Emkes, an e-Learning consultant and part-time maths teacher, runs SOLEs for home educated children at Biddenham International School and Sports College in Bedfordshire, UK.

They have been running since 2013, supported by the college and the local authority’s PLACE programme for children who are not in school but on the Elective Home Education (EHE) Register.

One of the biggest challenges Jacq faces is the diverse age range of her group – from eight to 12-years-old – which means she is often diverted from her original lesson plan. There are usually around 15-20 children, but the numbers fluctuate as families come and go.

“Inevitably ‘normal’ behaviour rules go out the window,” says Jacq. “Children are soon found scrolling the internet lying on the floor, under a desk, on top of a desk, perched on a table. Anything goes – it’s all learning! The children can move around freely, help other groups and indeed swap groups.”
Jacq’s SOLE makes good use of the safe social learning platform Makewaves where they can upload their work to create movies, pictures and stories to share with the group.

They are also encouraged to critique each other’s work (in a positive and helpful way, naturally!) and even family members and the college’s principal have been adding their own comments to help improve student’s work.


Highlighting just how spontaneous learning in a SOLE can be, one of their research topics which began with Roman toilets ended in a village in the Philippines. It led to the group finding out about Toilet Twinning, which helps to bring clean water and safe sanitation to the world’s poorest people by linking your toilet with one in Africa or Asia. They went on to hold a fundraising event for the charity which the children organised themselves.

“In all the chaos and buzz of a SOLE session parents sometimes wonder what on earth the children have learnt,” says Jacq. “It’s worth explaining that it’s a whole lot more than the answers to the BIG Questions: for example, it’s about working in a multi-age, multi-skilled group; resolving heated debate; and choosing an effective presentation tool.

“Our investigations are not limited by time pressures – the children can work it out until they are satisfied they understand. The ability to set ground rules, negotiate with each other and become socially adept are valuable skills. My input is largely technical as in passwords for iPads and logins for PCs – the children run the sessions themselves.”

Jacqueline says she understands why some parents can be sceptical as SOLE is a pretty abstract concept to grasp a lot of the time. However, she shared a short story with me which she feels helps sums it up:

“I was chatting with a parent and her eight-year-old son about SOLE and all our ideas and plans,” explains Jacq. “When asked ‘what do the children actually learn?’ I looked over at the boy and asked if he could explain something he had learnt, such as what in this room is influenced by Fibonnaci?

“‘Fib who?’ said the mum (and who could blame her?) ‘Well…’ said her son, ‘you see all those art pictures on the wall of this room? Well, the artists did not understand Fibonnaci’s numbers, that it should be a 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 (and so on). Those flowers have 4 petals painted on them so they are not true life, they are not nature’s numbers. That artist did not know about the golden ratio – it’s a ‘dud’.’

“The boy then went onto explain how he would redesign the reception hall as the windows were not quite right. The walls however, were fine apparently!”


Jacq says that over the past two years she’s learnt that key to a successful SOLE is creating an environment in which it can work properly.

“This includes minimal intervention by adults, which is hard for many teachers to accept or understand,” she explains. “It is moving away from ‘teaching’ in the customary sense towards allowing groups of children to self organise, then learning emerges on its own.”

Introducing: Khud

This blog was originally published on the Khud website on 6th June 2015; it is reproduced here with our thanks.

Khud is a small experiment hoping to make a big impact. Khud’s mission is to give underprivileged children in Pakistan (and maybe beyond?) a fighting chance.

The Pakistan education crisis has multiple insane dimensions. To boil it down quantitatively:

*25 million children do not go to school
*1.25 Million teachers are needed

Qualitatively the news is not good either. The children that are in school are not exactly getting a great education. The rote-learning based system does not prepare them to tackle the world in a truly productive way.

Khud is not going to reinvent the wheel. We plan to take insights from:

*Socrates and his method around letting students arrive at their own conclusions
*Maria Montessori and her approach that encouraged children to play and teach themselves
*Sugata Mitra and his approach around self organized learning

The plan is to start this experiment in a school on the outskirts of Lahore. Make mistakes, gather data, learn – be agile. Then scale.

Khud - map

Wish us luck. Share our story. Connect with us.

To keep up with the story, follow Khud on Twitter: @salahkhawaja

So you think you’ve got SOLE? Sugata Mitra explains the science behind it

Sugata recently appeared on BBC World Service’s The Forum programme to talk about SOLEs and his idea for school exams in the future. We thought you might like to hear some of what was discussed on this blog.

“It’s important to understand the sense in which I use the word ‘self organising system’,” says Sugata. “It’s not organisation of the self. I find increasingly that people mix it up with self-regulated or self-directed learning and that’s not what I’m talking about.

“A self organising system is basically a concept that comes out of maths and physics which is that if you allow a system to be chaotic then, under certain circumstances, you get spontaneous order.

“I think I’ve seen that happen with children quite accidentally; initially I had not a clue that was what was happening. Yet over the last 15 years, in instance after instance, I’ve seen groups of children who simply don’t know any English confronted with the internet in English and making sense of what they see.”

Sugata also talked to BBC host Bridget Kendall about how hole-in-the-wall developed into School in the Cloud in a way that would not have been possible before the Internet, and how it has changed the way children learn.

“When a group reads together they somehow read at much higher levels of comprehension than an individual child,” he explains. “This was not something I’d seen before. The limitations of reading in print means you can’t easily read the same book at the same time in a group, but you can on screen.

“We’ve seen instant amplification of comprehension – as soon as one stumbles, another one steps in to help, creating this spontaneous order.”

Sugata says that this instantaneous feedback from peers, not teachers, taps into the universal idea of emergent order out of a chaotic situation.

His 60 second idea to pitch to the presenter and fellow participants Sir Ken Robinson and Professor Scott Klemmer was for the internet to be allowed into exams.

He argued that schools need to be able to assess children’s ability to live in the world today, not the Victorian age. “For probably the first time in their lives they have to enter an exam room and demonstrate that they can live without the Internet. Why?”

Sugata went on to point out that if the internet was allowed into exams, this would cause the whole education system to change to better reflect the world we live in.

“If you need to know something you can now know it instantly– today’s children have not seen another world,” says Sugata. “The standardised education system of putting facts into their brains and then examining to see if has been retained doesn’t mean anything to them. ‘Why do I have to know how to multiply by hand with pen and pencil?’ they ask me.”

This special Forum edition Cloud Education: The Future of Learning was about the big challenges facing education today and how we ensure everyone can learn to the best of their ability. It explored these questions and more with future learning, educational and creative leader Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, UK and Scott Klemmer, Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, USA.

Listen to the full programme here:

(R to L) Sir Ken Robinson introduces 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra at TED2013. Long Beach, CA. February 25 - March 1, 2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson
(R to L) Sir Ken Robinson introduces 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra at TED2013. Long Beach, CA. February 25 – March 1, 2013. Photo: James Duncan Davidson