Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, Newcastle University.
Lead expert on the Future of Education.
Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. He was given the $1m TED Prize in 2013 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 help and guidance from online educators.
The School in the Cloud brings together Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) to link in with the Granny Cloud, originally set up in 2009 following an appeal for retired teachers willing to offer a few hours a week to help teach English to Indian schoolchildren. This mentoring and encouraging role is still a vital part of the success of this educational approach today.
Much of his current research builds on the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, which Sugata instigated in 1999 while chief scientist at NIIT. Children were given free access to a computer embedded within a wall between his office and an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi. The Hole in the Wall experiment has also left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Mitra’s experiment and was inspired to write his debut novel that went on to become the Oscar winning movie of 2009 – Slumdog Millionaire.
This, and further experiments into children’s learning, have demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own in a public space – a process which Sugata called Minimally Invasive Education.
Sugata’s work at NIIT created the first curricula and pedagogy for that organisation, followed by years of research on learning styles, learning devices (several of them now patented), multimedia and new methods of learning.
He has a PhD in Physics and is credited with more that 25 inventions in the area of cognitive science and educational technology. He was conferred the prestigious Dewang Mehta Award for Innovation in Information Technology in 2005.
Starting with molecular orbital computation in the 1970s, he discovered that the structure of organic molecules determine their function more than the constituent atoms.
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 based newspaper publishing system in 1984 and went on to predict the desktop publishing industry.
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.
He was also among the first to invent Voluntary Perception Recording (a continuously variable voting machine) and a hyperlinked computing environment, several years ahead of the Internet. (Voluntary perception analysis – a new measurement device.
Since the 1970s, Sugata’s work has resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, among them some of the poorest children in the world. The resultant changes in the lives of people and the economy of the country can only be guessed at.