Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. He is the instigator of the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, where in the year 1999 a computer was embedded within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to freely use it. The experiment aimed at proving that kids could be taught computers very easily without any formal training. Sugata termed this as Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). The experiment has since been repeated at many places.
His interests include Children’s Education, Remote Presence, Self-organising systems, Cognitive Systems, Physics and Consciousness. The Hole in the Wall experiment has left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Mitra’s experiment and was inspired to write his debut novel that went on to become the Oscar winning movie of 2009 – Slumdog Millionaire.
He is a PHD in Physics credited with more that 25 inventions in the area of cognitive science and educational technology. He was conferred the prestigious Dewang Mehta Award for Innovation in Information Technology in the year 2005.
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).
After a Ph.D. in Solid State Physics from the IIT, Delhi, he went on to research energy storage systems, first at the Centre for Energy Studies in the IIT and then at the Technische Universität, Vienna, Austria. This resulted in a new design for Zinc-Chlorine batteries (A design for zinc-chlorine batteries. S. Mitra, Journal of Power Sources, 8, 359-367 (1982) USA).
Professor 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. Culminating and, perhaps, towering over his previous work, are his “hole in the wall” experiments with children’s learning. Since 1999, he has convincingly demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own using public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds (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. www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/mitra.html). His publication was judged the best open access publication in the world for 2005.
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. The resultant changes in the lives of people and the economy of the country can only be guessed at.