From 1999 till 2004, in his Hole in the Wall experiment, Sugata Mitra found that children in disadvantaged or rural areas of India, who had never seen computers before, could teach themselves how to use them and learn a smattering of English in the process. Along the way, they learned all sorts of other things, including how to collaborate with their peers to figure things out. A question that began to pop up quite often was about the impact of this on curricular achievements.
In 2008 and 2009, the first Indian SOLE labs (Self Organised Learning Environments) were set up in Hyderabad and then in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra. These followed Mitra’s experiments with SOLES in the UK and other parts of India where it was observed that encouragement could make a significant difference to the children’s learning.
The Indian SOLE labs were in urban slum, or remote rural locations for children from poor socio-economic backgrounds. It became very apparent that their ability to make the most of internet resources was limited/restricted by their lack of comprehension of English.
That was when the idea of the Granny Cloud was born! The basic, delightfully simple, idea was to have folks who were native English speakers Skype in with children in these remote and disadvantaged locations and enable them to pick up English in the way we typically pick up any language – through hearing it spoken around us and using it in conversation. In the very first days of The Granny Cloud, it became apparent that learning English would be only one of the many possibilities of these interactions. Right from the start, the Grannies used all kinds of activities from story-telling, and songs; puzzles and games to reach out to the children.
By the time the OGEF [Orient Global Education Fund Project], through Newcastle University came to an end in December 2009, there were eleven centres in Hyderabad and one in Shirgaon, Maharashtra, all in India. All of these gradually shut down in 2010 in the absence of funding.
However, the Granny Cloud concept continued to flourish. Between 2010 and 2013, additional independent / self-funded centres were established in Rameshwarwadi, Varanasi, Rayalpad, Panchgani, Pune & Phaltan (India) and in Bogota & Cartegna (Colombia).
In 2013 the TED Prize was awarded to Sugata Mitra and five ‘School in the Cloud’ labs integrating the concept of the SOLEs and the Granny Cloud were established in Kalkaji, Korakati, Chandrakona, Phaltan and Gocharan.With the end of the TED SinC Project in 2016, most of these labs gradually shut down. Currently, only the lab in Korakati continues to function with funding from SOLE Central. The lab at Phaltan returned to its original independent status.
The Granny Cloud has, since it’s inception in 2009, evolved and explored different ways of reaching children in disadvantaged situations, while choosing to remain a small, entirely volunteer and self-funded entity. Over the years, it has reached out to many independent centres in India and in other countries including Cambodia, Greenland, Mexico, Jamaica and the USA. Some centres close down, others are taken on as the needs change. These Granny Cloud Centres operate in many different locations – rural, semi-rural, urban and urban slums. Some centres are situated within schools; some are based in community centres and some even in private homes.
A range of organisations continue to be involved in this initiative, while many others wish to become part of it. As the movement grows, we hope to reach many more children across the world.