Sugata Mitra: Catalyst of Curiosity
Credit: Indigo Flores
The Daring Dozen Q&A
Which resources have inspired you and informed your work?
- 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- Order Out of Chaos by Ilya Prigogine
- The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
Who are your role models?
- Leonardo Da Vinci
- Charles Darwin
- Sigmund Freud
- Thomas Edison
What advice would you give those who consider you a role model?
Be careful! It might not be what you think.
What fundamental beliefs have guided your work?
Learning is self-organized. Values are acquired. Understand and enjoy life. Planning is boring. Let things happen.
What is your mantra in the face of adversity?
Take the best the adversity has to offer, dump the rest. All adversity has unique opportunities to offer.
More to Explore:
Indian scientist Sugata Mitra has produced raw proof of novelist W.P. Kinsella's dictum "If you build it, he" -- or, in this case, they -- "will come." In an educational application of the concept, Mitra demonstrated that if you provide children with an opportunity to learn something -- something powerful and relevant -- and leave them alone, they learn it. And then, having learned it on their own, they will own it and share it.
Intrigued by how children might learn without being conventionally taught, Mitra eight years ago conducted an experiment: He ordered a hole cut in the wall of the New Delhi office of NIIT, an international IT training company where he headed research and development. In the opening, he put a high-speed computer with Internet access, and he waited. Within hours, curious children from the nearby slum had begun flocking to the machine, exploring it and figuring out which actions yielded results.
In the days and weeks that followed, and in subsequent experiments, the most advanced computer users among the curious kids taught their siblings and friends what they knew, and those children taught more children. They learned to browse the Internet, create documents, play games, and paint pictures. They used the computer's programs to learn words in English, assemble virtual dinosaur skeletons, and listen to stories aloud. The children, ages 8-13, developed their own vocabulary for the task, calling the cursor image a needle and folders cupboards. Mitra describes the process as "minimally invasive education."
With backing from NIIT, the Indian government, the ICICI Bank, and the International Finance Corporation of Delhi, a member of the World Bank Group, Mitra and NIIT founded Hole-in-the-Wall Education and set up 250 computers in 110 locations throughout India and later in Cambodia. Research shows that Hole-in-the-Wall users performed nearly as well on computer skills tests as children who had learned through a formal class, and their engagement and performance in school improved as well.
Mitra, now NIIT's chief scientist emeritus and a professor of educational technology at the United Kingdom's Newcastle University, aims to spread this model around the world to boost the learning and life skills of children, particularly those living in poverty and with few educational resources. Where conventional schools are absent or ineffective, the Hole-in-the-Wall Web site says, the hands-off method could be a solution "that uses the power of collaboration and the natural curiosity of children to catalyze learning."
Next article in "The Global Six 2007" > Father Gerard Pantin