4 minutes reading time (726 words)

A beginner’s guide to Professor Sugata Mitra

A beginner’s guide to Professor Sugata Mitra

Best known for:

In 1999 Mitra carried out a series of Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiments about children's learning. The first experiment involved children being given free access to a computer embedded in a wall between his office and a Delhi slum. The experiment aimed to prove that children could easily learn from computers without any formal training, a phenomenon Mitra called Minimally Invasive Education.

The experiment demonstrated that children could learn to use computers and the Internet on their own in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds, even without knowing English. In 2013, Mitra's TED Talk Build a School in the Cloud discussed the Hole in the Wall experiment. His write-up of the experiment was judged the best open access publication in the world in 2005 and he was also awarded the Dewang Mehta Award for innovation in IT that year.

Quick biography:

Professor Sugata Mitra (image source: TED)

Born: 1952

Nationality: Indian

Where does he work?

Mitra is currently Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University. His current research builds on his 'Hole in the Wall' experiment, which Mitra instigated in 1999 while chief scientist at NIIT, an Indian Multinational company. In 2013, he was awarded the $1m TED Prize in recognition of his work and to help build a School in the Cloud; a creative online space where children from all over the world can gather to answer 'big questions', share knowledge and benefit from online teachers. He earned his PhD in 1978 from the Indian Institute of Technology. 

What's it all about:

Following the experiment, Mitra claimed that children in the rural slums of India, many of whom had never seen a computer before, had used the computers in the walls to teach themselves everything from 'character mapping' to advanced topics such as DNA replication. He suggested that the same access, replicated on a global scale, could lead to "unstoppable learning" through a "worldwide cloud" – where children would pool their knowledge and resources in the absence of adult supervision to create a world of self-promoted learning. This idea later became the School in the Cloud.

What does he research?

Mitra's first research interests involved computer networking. He set up India's first local area network based newspaper publishing system in 1984 and went on to predict the desktop publishing industry. His interest in electronic networks – combined with his interest in the human mind – led him to explore how people learn. This has in turn propelled his research and activities in 'Self Organised Learning Environments (Soles)', such as the School in the Cloud.

What he says:

"If a group of children find a question they think is important, they will search for an answer. On the Internet, this will usually result in finding good information. Groups of children, in the presence of good information will discuss possible answers. Most of the time, such a process results in the emergence of good answers. A by-product of this process is learning." 

What others say:

Mitra has received many plaudits for his work, but some critics have questioned what children can really gain from the Hole in the Wall computers. In particular, education researcher Donald Clark has suggested that the computers often end up being abused and abandoned. He has also suggested that such learning methods can exasperate social divisions, as he found that older male pupils often dominated the computers, excluding girls and younger boys.

Why you should consider reading more:

As well as working with schools in West Bengal, New Delhi and Maharashtra, Mitra has worked with George Stephenson High School in Killingworth, North Tyneside and Greenfield Community College in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

This year, 40 schools in the North East of England started using Mitra's Soles. At one primary school in Gateshead, Year 4 pupils using the Sole techniques were able to answer GCSE physics and biology questions confidently. Although Mitra is in the early stages of building up an empirical justification for his methods, they are gaining traction and may interest educators keen to introduce more computer-based learning to their pupils.

Top reads:

Further information:

EdProfessional members:

Use this link to directly access summaries, links and reviews about Professor Mitra's Hole in the wall project.

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