A Cloud of Human Potential

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

In every town in every nation, young people are moments away from inheriting complex problems. At the same time, disparities in educational opportunity and achievement are widening and threatening to undermine the vast potential of our youngest generations. As a global community, it is unconscionable that we leave so much promise unrealized among our youth.

In places where the greatest inequity exists, Dr. Sugata Mitra's "School in the Cloud" holds enormous promise for leveling the playing field. But his methodology, which taps into a child's innate sense of wonder and curiosity through Self-organized Learning Environments (or SOLES), is relevant for communities and classrooms everywhere. In essence, it's about putting the power to learn, create and collaborate into the hands of our children. Because everyone has the capacity and responsibility to nurture children's learning and growth, anyone can create SOLEs in homes, classrooms and communities using Mitra's online toolkit.

Mitra's observations and insights -- through experiments like the Hole in the Wall and decades of research in communities around the globe -- electrify children because they tap into our most deeply held truths about what supports and fuels love of learning. Anyone who has ever witnessed a child's ah-ha moment when they learn something new can relate to the contagious exhilaration it activates in us. With three children and 11 grandchildren, I'm humbled to have witnessed quite a few of these ah-ha moments. It's in that moment of discovery and delight that we can truly see human potential that then can lead to mastery and confidence beyond what we previously thought possible.

Mitra describes this learning journey for children as "an intelligent adventure driven by big questions." "It's not about making learning happen, but letting learning happen... we've lost sight of wondrous questions."

Truly excellent learning environments foster the construction of knowledge, providing us with the scaffolding necessary to deeply engage with new ideas and concepts. -- Jackie Bezos

This technique of asking powerful questions and then stepping aside to see how children respond releases the expectation of a predetermined outcome. In a culture that praises instant answers, this can be uncomfortable. But we also open up the possibility of eliciting an inspired and thoroughly unexpected response. This kind of input and interaction is brain fertilizer; not only is it stimulating for the student, but it is deeply gratifying for the educator.

Mitra lobs thoughtful, interesting questions with the finesse of an Olympic athlete. But this creative habit of mind is at the core of great teaching. Our best educators do this every day by creating environments in which students can discover and follow their passions. By marrying this elemental approach with imaginative solutions around self-directed learning like the School in the Cloud, Mitra reveals a way to exponentially grow instances of curiosity and discovery for young people, regardless of their circumstances. In developing countries like India where resources and systemic support can be, the School in the Cloud allows young people to take ownership of their learning.

Mitra's work also reinforces the importance of social-emotional contexts that must be present for learning to flourish. Truly excellent learning environments foster the construction of knowledge, providing us with the scaffolding necessary to deeply engage with new ideas and concepts. While the School in the Cloud creates connections through computers and broadband, it's not about putting a child in front of a screen. It's about providing a portal for peers to tinker, experiment, collaborate and learn together. Human interaction matters -- especially for our youngest learners - we know that learning in the context of relationships is what makes the information stick. Through playful discovery, positive reinforcement and peer engagement, these young people are accumulating the skills and knowledge to equip them to tackle the global issues that inevitably face them in the future.

Those ah-ha moments, like the kind that Mitra's work ignites, are essential in motivating a child to become a lifelong learner. It's that agency and ability to create for oneself that will drive a child to exceed expectations -- his or her own, and ours. Even our highest expectations are a poor barometer of a child's limitless potential. Take it from me.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.

TED and The Huffington Post invite you to take the SOLE Challenge, a unique contest in which we're asking teachers and parents to create child-centered learning labs in their homes and schools. Write an 800 to 1,000 word blog post on your experiences and send it to Three winning submissions will get to attend TED Youth 2013.