Sugata Mitra

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Sugata Mitra
সুগত মিত্ৰ
Mitra in 2012
Native name সুগত মিত্ৰ
Born (1951-02-12) 12 February 1951 (age 63)
Calcutta, West Bengal, India
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Bengali
Occupation Professor
Known for Hole in the Wall project

Sugata Mitra Bengali: সুগত মিত্ৰ (born 12 February 1952) is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England. He is best known for his "Hole in the Wall" experiment, and widely cited in works on literacy and education. He is Chief Scientist, Emeritus, at NIIT. He is also the winner of the TED Prize 2013.[1]

Mitra has been described as a polymath by the University of London, as his 30 years of research spans a wide range of disciplines.


Mitra was born in a Bengali family in Calcutta, India on 12 February 1952.[2]

Early scientific work[edit]

Starting with molecular orbital computation in the 1970s, Mitra discovered that the structure of organic molecules determine their function more than the constituent atoms (Crystal structure sensitivity of the band structure of organic semiconductors. S.C. Mathur and S. Mitra, Journal of Phys.C Solid State, 12, (2) (1979) UK he did good we should to After earning a PhD in Solid State Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, he went on to research energy storage systems – first at the Centre for Energy Studies in the IIT, and later at the Technische Universität, Vienna. This resulted in a new design for zinc-chlorine batteries that is now in use by the military (A design for zinc-chlorine batteries. S. Mitra, Journal of Power Sources, 8, 359–367 (1982) USA).

His interests in the flow of electricity through biological systems, a consequence of his PhD research on exciton dissociation in organic semiconductors, led on to a seminally speculative paper on why the human sense organs are located where they are (A correlation between the location and sensitivity of human sense organs. A.K. Banerjee and S. Mitra, Spec. Science and Technology, 5, (2), 141 (1982) Australia).

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 (Compositors that compute, S. Mitra, Computers Today, May 1985, India). This in turn led to the invention of LAN based database publishing and he created the "Yellow Pages" industry in India and Bangladesh.

Education and cognitive science studies[edit]

Mitra is a leading proponent of Minimally invasive education. He has a PhD in Physics and is credited with more than 25 inventions in the area of cognitive science and education technology. He was conferred the prestigious Dewang Mehta Award for Innovation in Information Technology in the year 2005.[3] In September 2012 Mitra won the Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award in the "Crossing Border" category.[4]

His interest in the human mind once again led him into the areas of learning and memory and he was amongst the first in the world to show that simulated neural networks can help decipher the mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease (The effect of synaptic disconnection on bi-directional associative recall. S. Mitra, Proc. IEEE/SMC Conf., Vol.1, 989, 1994 USA).

He was among the first people to invent "voluntary perception recording" (a continuously variable voting machine) and a hyperlinked computing environment, several years ahead of the Internet.[5]

Mitra'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.

Since the 1970s, Professor Mitra's publications and work has resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, amongst them some of the poorest children in the world.

Some of this work culminated in an interest in early literacy, and the Hole in the Wall experiments.

TED Talk[edit]

On 3 May 2013, Mitra's TED Talk "Build a School in the Cloud" was featured in NPR's TED Radio hour on "Unstoppable Learning". In the program, Mitra discusses the "Hole in the Wall" experiment. Mitra discovers that children in the rural slums of India (many of which have never seen a computer in their lives) are capable of teaching themselves everything from character mapping to DNA replication all on their own.

Mitra discusses a world of unstoppable learning through the creation of a worldwide cloud – where children pool their knowledge and resources in the absence of adult supervision to create a world of self-promoted learning.

Hole in the Wall[edit]

External video
Sugata Mitra TEDPrize Winner - Conversation..JPGSugata Mitra explaining the Hole in Wall after winning the TED Prize.
The Hole in the Wall Experiment at TED TED Talks 2007]
The Child-Driven Education/ Sugata Mitra at TED TED Talks 2010]
Build a School in the Cloud/ Sugata Mitra at TED TED Talks 2013]

In 1999, the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiments in children's learning, was first conducted. In the initial experiment, a computer was placed in a kiosk in a wall in a slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to use it freely.[6] The experiment aimed at proving that children could be taught by computers very easily without any formal training. Mitra termed this Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). The experiment has since been repeated in many places; HIW has more than 23 kiosks in rural India. In 2004 the experiment was carried out in Cambodia.[7] (His interests include education, remote presence, self-organising systems, cognitive systems, physics and consciousness.)

This work demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own with public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds, even without knowing English.[8] Mitra's publication was judged the best open access publication in the world for 2005 and he was awarded the Dewang Mehta Award for innovation in IT that year.

The Hole in the Wall experiment left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Mitra's experiment and was inspired to write his debut novel Q & A, which later became the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Evaluations and criticisms[edit]

Critics have questioned whether leaving computers in villages results in gains in math and other skills.[9] According to Michael Trucano, no evidence of increases in these key skills has been found.[10] Others see the idea as a recycling of what they see as a "Dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen" plan.[11]

The long-term sustainability of the kiosk system has been questioned because they can fall into disrepair and abandonment unless the resources typical of a school are provided.[12] UK education researcher Donald Clark has accumulated significant support indicating that the typical fate of a site is abuse and abandonment, unless it is inside a sanctuary such as a school. Moreover, he argues that the computers are dominated by bigger boys, excluding girls and younger students, and mostly used for entertainment.[13]

Twelve-year-old Paloma Noyola Bueno, who lives in a Mexico slum, topped the all Mexico Maths exam after her school teacher, Sergio Juarez Correa, implemented Mitra's revolutionary teaching method in the classroom. Perhaps more importantly, her class went from 0 to 63 per cent in the excellent category on the Maths exam while failing scores went from 45 percent down to 7 per cent. Her class also posted major improvements on other parts of the test.[14]


  1. ^ Wakefield, Jane (28 February 2013). "BBC News – TED 2013: UK educationalist wins TED prize". Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Mitra, Sugata. "SM-Resume". SM-Resume. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  3. ^ Dewang Mehta award winner
  4. ^ Press release: How companies can use keen visions responsibly
  5. ^ (Voluntary perception analysis – a new measurement device. S. Mitra, Media and Technology for Human Resources Development, Oct. 1989, India and Imaginet – An associative, non-linear, multimedia storage and retrieval system. S. Mitra and Ajay Magon, Multimedia Computer and Communications (INFOCOM '92), Tata McGraw Hill pp20–30, (1992), Bombay, India).
  6. ^ The Beginnings
  7. ^ "ICCR takes NIIT's "Hole-in-the-wall" experiment to Cambodia". 
  8. ^ Mitra, Sugata, Ritu Dangwal, Shiffon Chatterjee, Swati Jha, Ravinder S. Bisht and Preeti Kapur (2005), Acquisition of Computer Literacy on Shared Public Computers: Children and the “Hole in the wall,” Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(3), 407–426.
  9. ^ Paradowski, Michał B. (2014) Classrooms in the cloud or castles in the air? IATEFL Voices 239, 8–10.
  10. ^ Michael Trucano (2012)Evaluating One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru
  11. ^ Cuban, L, (2012). No end to magical thinking when it comes to high tech Schooling
  12. ^ Arora,P (2010). Hope-in-the-Wall? A digital promise for free learning British Journal of Educational Technology doi 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01078.x
  13. ^ Clark D. (2013) Sugata Mitra: Slum chic? 7 reasons for doubt
  14. ^ Wired How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses

External links[edit]