Over the course of the past six months here at Daily Edventures, we’ve talked to some of the world’s top educators, asking them what they believe about education (the power of self-directed learning and global collaboration – enabled by technology — come up a lot) and who inspired them. Many of these educators credit Sugata Mitra and his Hole in the Wall experiments as their source of inspiration, and after speaking with him recently, it’s easy to see why.
In 1999, Professor Mitra embedded a computer within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to use it freely. The experiment proved that kids could be taught computers very easily without any formal training. Mitra called this “minimally invasive education (MIE),” and the experiment has since been repeated at many places, with similar results.
The Hole in the Wall experiment resonated so much for Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, he was inspired to write his debut novel that went on to become the Oscar winning movie of 2009, Slumdog Millionaire.
I was honored to have a conversation with Professor Mitra recently, where we covered topics as diverse as the two experiments that changed Mitra’s life (not the Hole in the Wall experiments – but what came after) to his Granny Cloud, a cross-cultural projecte pairing grandparents, or other caring adults who have broadband access, with remote students in need of learning support. Mitra shared his thinking about where education is headed, noting that his views “don’t make very many people happy.” Why? He sees no limits to self-directed learning and even wonders if “pretending to be educated for a long time (based on knowledge gained from today’s powerful search engines) makes you educated.” The implications of Mitra’s ideas are considerable, of course. Teachers must change the roles they play, classrooms may sometimes need to flip and students must be given access to information wherever and whenever they need it. These are topics we talk about here at Daily Edventures each and every day. I hope you’ll enjoy listening to Professor Mitra as much as I did.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
About a million children who would not have seen a computer before, now surf. A million Indian software developers who used my curriculum and courses.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Read my eBook, Beyond the Hole in the Wall.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I have applied people in innovative ways around technology.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Wondering how and when to change.
What conditions must change to better support education?
The next generation has to take over.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
To realize what is obsolete and to leave learners alone.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Find and communicate the hard questions. Don’t give out answers.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The Internet is changing learners. Schools are getting in the way.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Free broadband access on a big, bright screen. Everything else will follow.
About Sugata Mitra
Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. His interests include Children’s Education, Remote Presence, Self-organizing systems, Cognitive Systems, Physics and Consciousness. Since the 1970s, Professor Mitra’s publications and work have resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, including some of the poorest children in the world.
Mitra is a Ph.D in Physics credited with more than 25 inventions in the area of cognitive
science and educational technology. His interest in computer networking led him towards the emerging systems in printing in the 1980s. He set up India’s first local area network (LAN)-based newspaper publishing system in 1984 and went on to predict the desktop publishing industry. This in turn led to the invention of LAN-based database publishing, and he created the “Yellow Pages” industry in India and Bangladesh. His interest in the human mind once again led him into the areas of learning and memory and he was among the first in the world to show that simulated neural networks can help decipher the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Mitra’s work at NIIT created the first curricula and pedagogy for that organization, followed by years of research on learning styles, learning devices, several of them now patented, multimedia and new methods of learning. Culminating and, perhaps, towering over his previous work, are his “hole in the wall” experiments with children’s learning. Since 1999, he has convincingly demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of whom or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own using public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds.
Birthplace: Calcutta, India
Current residence: Gateshead, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education: Ph.D. in Theoretical Solid State Physics, IIT, Delhi, India
Website I check every day: Facebook
Person who inspires me most: Leonardo Da Vinci
Favorite childhood memory: A stuffed real Royal Bengal Tiger
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Denmark
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Today, because I spilled my clam chowder
Favorite book: A Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Favorite music: Tagore’s ‘Bhanu Singher Padabali’
Your favorite quote or motto: Do what you like but be mindful of the Policeman around the corner.