Dr. Sugata Mitra, physicist, cognitive researcher and pedagogue is certainly one of the most intelligent and original thinkers I have come across. In fact, many years ago, when he was doing his post-doc in Vienna, I had the pleasure of getting lessons from him on calculus! Now professor at the University of Newcastle, it’s indeed great to see him today speak at TED Lectures, at the UN General Assembly, CNN etc…. I have been sending links about his stories to friends saying: “I know this guy”.
Dr. Mitra became famous with a curious socio-pedagogic ‘experiment’ in New Delhi (when he was technology head of NIIT – one of the big five e-training institutes of the world). I’ll never forget the chills that ran down my spine when I first saw the public space experiment in Delhi . It was one of those moments, when I felt we were entering a new age.
The story started with Mitra’s digging a hole in a wall which separated his office from an area of neighbouring ‘slums’, inserting a computer with its screen and touchpad turned towards the slums, and attaching a high speed internet to it. I don’t know how he came across the idea.
The appropriation of the computer and the Internet by thousands of illiterate children – all without any supervision – delivered unanticipated evidence about the high intelligence and capacity of illiterate children to acquire substantial computer skills and other knowledge without the help of teachers. It became somewhat of a sensation in the area. Wolfensohn, the then director of the World Bank went to see it personally. A media hype started to build up. Soon the experiment was replicated in scores of other urban public spaces and villages around India and in a number of other countries like South Africa. They all delivered the same message: children have an uncanny ability and drive to learn to use the computer for learning – all by themselves. The pedagogic model was dubbed by Mitra as ‚Minimally Invasive Education’ (Mitra 2000). The immense disparities existing in India’s school system, and the magnitude of the challenge of educating the children of its over 600 000 villages was the backdrop of this research project (Mitra and Dangwal 2010).
The experimental setting popularly known as the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ later became the inspirational story for the oscar winning movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
The pedagogic notion behind the models of such self-organized learning has become known as ‘emergent learning systems’ or ‘discovery based learning systems’ in contrast to the traditional ‘prescriptive learning systems’. It sees the transition of learning from tutor-led approach to co-construction and co-evolution of knowledge between tutors and learners, and especially between learners and learners.
SOLE – Self Organised Learning Environment
Based on the knowledge gained by this experiment, Mitra started experimenting with a new kind of learning space which he calls “SOLE – a Self-Organised Learning Environment”. A SOLE is a typical example of a ‘social space’ of learning. It usually comprises several computers with Internet access arranged in clusters to facilitate peer interaction. It is placed within a room that is publicly visible – allowing ‘unobtrusive supervision’ from outside. It can accommodate around 30 children, usually 4 at each computer. Children work in clusters creating a circular arrangement that further facilitates interaction in a larger group. Activities include surfing the Internet, following up on a classroom assignment, or simply going to where their interests lead them. Evidence shows that given free access children display high self-motivation to learn effectively and creatively, often succeeding in coming up with ‘extraordinary skills’ in finding answers to questions beyond their grade level. The ideal group size seems to be 4-6. Mixed age and gender groups were observed to work better (Mitra 2010; Mitra, Kulkarni 2010).
Here are some links:
Here is his latest TED lecture “The Child Driven Education”, where he speaks about ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ and his new experiments on SOLEs (2010). Stunning!!
Same video on TED. Here you’ll find more links, transcript etc. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html
Here he speaks about ‘A Day in the School of the Future’…
Here he speaks about the future of universities…he thinks there will be no more undergraduate courses offered at universities of the future…
Two papers: Mitra, S. (2000). Minimally Invasive Education for mass computer literacy. Presented at the CRIDALA 2000 conference, Hong Kong. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/docs/Paper01.pdf
Mitra, S. and Kulkarni, S. (2010). Access and Quality in Self Organized Learning Environments Formal Education: Quality Issues, British Journal of Educational Psychology. Wiley Online Library. Accessed online on 01.07.11 at < http://wikieducator.org/images/c/cb/Suneeta_Kulkarni.pdf>