Sugata Mitra: Challenging Traditional Education with Technology

Sugata Mitra is The professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University, England

Sugata Mitra wants to abolish education as we know it. 

The professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in England believes today’s education system is outdated, and we need to start anew. 

He set on this path after his famous 1999 Hole in the Wall Experiment where it was revealed, thanks to his experiment, that children in India were able to teach themselves on a computer with no outside instruction or supervision.

“But since those early days, the nature of the Internet has also changed very dramatically,” Mitra says. “So if our first conclusion is that children can learn things by themselves, then the next question is whether it is really necessary to know things in an age when information is available everywhere.”

The phrase “Just Google it” comes to mind.

Adaptation is necessary in a world where information is at everyone’s fingertips. Instead of memorizing equations to answer questions—“If an object falls at X feet per second and it’s Y meters above the ground, how long will it take?”— Mitra wants children’s questions—“Are we real?”—to initiate a new type of learning exploration.

Mitra on how education will evolve and adapt:
Somewhat similarly to how the transportation system adapted to the change from horse to automobile: build new roads, traffic lights, new signs, licensing systems, traffic police, driving etiquette. It’s a big job, but it will get done—eventually. It has to get done. Children get a little surprised when they hear the adults in the room talk about the word technology. Soon, they will say, ‘What’s that?’ In a few years, we will see the traditional definition of knowing—which is this mindless memorizing that we’ve become so accustomed to—become obsolete.

Mitra on the new “curriculum”:
If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making it happen. It’s about letting it happen. The School in the Cloud is like a sixth sense. It’s a combination of a human and tech, a composite entity. This kind of learning will drive classrooms and education as we know it into museums.

Mitra on continuous learning:
This is a generation that feels very comfortable walking down the street while looking at their mobile phone and tapping away at it. Some may look at this as ill-mannered, but what they’re really doing is exchanging information. They’re learning continuously. 

Mitra on technology’s future role in education: 
Technology is no longer just an aid—a crutch to help you do things better or more quickly. Our tech is now increasingly doing things for us without us even asking. Some people find that scary or even distasteful, but I find it a good sign. Technology has always been assistive, but in a reactive way. Now it’s shifting to being proactive,and that’s a shift I like.

In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, Lenovo looks at six extraordinary innovators who work relentlessly to move their field forward. Check all six stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.