Welcome to Hello World’s interview series showcasing the work of individuals and organisations that are championing education and helping marginalised communities to shape their own future.

EDUCATION IS… taking charge of your own future

Sugata Mitra is Emeritus Professor at NIIT University in Rajasthan, India. He retired in 2019 after 13 years as Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University in the UK, during which time he spent a year as Visiting Professor at MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts, USA. Among many awards, he received the TED million-dollar award in 2013 and the Dewang Mehta award for innovation in information technology from the Government of India in 2003.

If you could write on your own school report, what comments would you make?

My Indian School Certificate, granted by the University of Cambridge in 1968, lists only 7 subjects – English Language, English Literature, Hindi, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Geometry. Thirty years later, I ended up finding self-organizing systems in children’s education along with a bit of hypertension and diabetes. There is nothing in my school certificate that even hints that this is what will happen to me.   

That certificate could have said:

– My comprehension of most topics is good.

– My ability to communicate my comprehension to others is very good.

– I observe carefully but am lethargic about action.

– I am overweight.

That way, you might have been able to predict that I would be an experimenter and explain the results well. And that, if I don’t watch out I will get hypertension and diabetes.

What did you dream of becoming as a child and what obstacles got in your way?

When we were 9 years old, one of my teachers made us write down what we wanted to become when we grew up. I wrote that I would like to be a scientist and, if I didn’t do a good job of that, I would become a writer. I did not let anything get in the way of those things.

You are best known for your ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment – what lessons did this teach you and how have they informed your research and work since?

It took me 20 years to learn the following:

– Groups of unsupervised children, given access to the internet in safe and publicly visible spaces, can figure out how to use the internet, irrespective of who or where they are. We call this Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). 

– Groups of unsupervised children, given access to the internet in safe and publicly visible spaces, can learn anything by themselves. We call these Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs)See  How to run a SOLE session  and  About SOLE

– The presence, physically or virtually, of a friendly, encouraging adult, enhances self-organised learning as listed in 2. Such intervention, when through the internet, is called The Granny Cloud’.

– Minimally Invasive Education, implemented through Self-Organised Learning Environments and the Granny Cloud, is called a School in the Cloud.   

I ended up writing three books on all this, the latest of which is from September 2019. It’s called The School in the Cloud.

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