Sugata Mitra

An Indian IT specialist and scientist concerned with education, and winner of a TED Prize.

An Indian IT specialist and scientist concerned with education, and winner of a TED Prize. He is Professor of Education Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences of Newcastle University, and also visiting professor in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mitra is a scientist dealing with the biggest problem in education — that the best teachers and schools are not to be found where they are most needed. He has studied the behaviour of children who have studied without someone to instruct or supervise them. He has found that children’s innate sense for learning is greater if they are given freedom to explore the internet in small groups. In a series of experiments he gave children access to the internet where they supervised themselves, and achieved results that have revolutionised the way we think about learning.

According to Mitra, regardless of their origins or the language they speak, children can competently seek the answers to the “big questions” and arrive at rational logical conclusions. These questions go far beyond what the school curriculum asks of them. With the help of the World Bank he set up the project Hole-in-the-Wall Education (HiWEL) with the aim of making it possible for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain an education using negligible resources.

It all began in 1999 when Sugata Mitra and his colleagues from NIIT made a hole in the wall separating off an urban slum in Delhi, and installed there a computer connected to the internet and waited to see what would happen. Almost immediately the slum children began to play with the computer and in that way learned how to use it an access the internet. This experiment, which inspired the book “Q & A”, and which later became the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, was repeated with similar results in other parts of India. This has cast doubt on several of the key assumptions of formal education, when it showed that the absence of any direct involvement of a teacher an environment that encourages curiosity can lead to self-education and sharing of knowledge. Other research by Mitra has nonetheless shown that the teacher cannot simply be removed from the process of education and that children from remote areas often have poor results in school because they do not have access to quality education.

Currently Mitra is working on the School in the Cloud, which is the culmination of more than ten years of research and observation of the process of education around the world. The School in the Cloud is discovering and exploring children’s learning as a self-organising system.