By Akhtar Badshah, senior director, Citizenship and Public Affairs

At the TED Vancouver conference this week, a remarkable education innovator, Sugata Mitra who I have known since early 2000, announced the opening of five School in the Cloud labs in India and the United Kingdom. He’s also launching the accompanying digital platform, built by Microsoft, which enables anyone anywhere to host cloud-based learning.

The journey began 15 years ago when Sugata, now a professor of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, placed a computer into a hole in a wall in a Kalkaji, Delhi slum. Something extraordinary happened. Without any outside instruction, the students learned how to use the computer, and its connection to the Internet, to teach themselves about the world around them. And they taught each other.

As long as I have known Sugata, he has been challenging convention and questioning why we continue doing what we do -- especially when it comes to how we teach and educate our kids. The School in the Cloud and SOLE (self-organized learning environments) is just another way of challenging convention and developing a new approach to teach using technology.

Microsoft’s support of School in the Cloud is a unique effort, not only because of its ground-breaking philosophy, but also because it reaches into nearly every corner of the company. From Skype, to Office and Azure, Bing and Xbox, the effort has been an unprecedented cross-collaboration. Microsoft’s investment comes from our YouthSpark initiative, our company-wide global mission to connect 300 million youth to opportunities for education, entrepreneurship and employment.

Sugata’s vision represents a phenomenal revolution in learning – and I can only imagine how School in the Cloud will unleash the creativity of young people in years to come.

From my perspective the opportunity extends beyond using technology to reach kids where traditional schools and teachers will never be able to reach but also to organize a new way of teaching and of how kids learn. SOLE allows a much wider population to get engaged and bring knowledge in new and creative ways to students. Sugata’s aim is to fundamentally increase the quality of education and develop new content through School in the Classroom and SOLE.

To read more about Sugata Mitra’s amazing School in the Cloud and the Microsoft technology powering it to scale, view today’s story on Microsoft News Center.