MLTalks: Sugata Mitra

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Sugata Mitra
Sugata Mitra

What are the origins of schooling?

If you can access the Internet invisibly, are you educated?

How long can you ‘pretend’ to be a professional without going to school?

What will nature do with a human brain that now has a powerful prosthetic?

Is the Internet collective consciousness? If so, are we taking an evolutionary jump? Are we witnessing the end of Homo Sapiens?

This one-hour talk and discussion will travel through 13 years of experiments that raise the questions above. It is in this context that we will look at the future of learning and its effects around the world, in countries that are developing and countries that have stopped developing.


Sugata Mitra is professor of educational technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. He is the instigator of the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, where a computer was embedded within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to freely use it. The experiment aimed to prove that kids could be taught computers very easily without any formal training. Sugata termed this as Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). The experiment has since been repeated in many places. The Hole in the Wall experiment has left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Mitra's experiment and was inspired to write the novel that went on to become the Oscar-winning movie of 2009: Slumdog Millionaire. He 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 the year 2005. 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. 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. 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. Professor Mitra created NIIT’s first curricula and pedagogy, followed by years of research on learning styles and devices, multimedia, and new methods of learning. Since the 1970s, Professor Mitra’s publications and work have resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, amongst 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.

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