Sugata Mitra

Sugata Mitra
  • Education researcher

Sugata Mitra is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK.

He was given the $1m TED Prize in 2013 in recognition of his work and to help build a School in the Cloud, a creative online space where children from all over the world can gather to answer ‘big questions’, share knowledge and benefit from help and guidance from online educators.

The School in the Cloud brings together Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs) to link in with the Granny Cloud, originally set up in 2009 following an appeal for retired teachers willing to offer a few hours a week to help teach English to Indian schoolchildren. This mentoring and encouraging role is still a vital part of the success of this educational approach today.

Much of his current research builds on the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, which Sugata instigated in 1999 while chief scientist at NIIT. Children were given free access to a computer embedded within a wall between his office and an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi.

This, and further experiments into children’s learning, have demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own in a public space – a process which Sugata called Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). (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). This publication was judged the best open access publication in the world for 2005.

The Hole in the Wall experiment has also 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.

Sugata’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

He has a PhD in Physics and is 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 2005.

Starting with molecular orbital computation in the 1970s, he 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 completing his PhD in Solid State Physics at 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).

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 the creation of the “Yellow Pages” industry in India and Bangladesh.

His interest in the human mind once again led him into the areas of learning and memory and he was among 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 also among the first to invent Voluntary Perception Recording (a continuously variable voting machine) and a hyperlinked computing environment, several years ahead of the Internet. (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).

Sugata’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, Sugata’s work has resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, among 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.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the Theoretical Solid State Physics of Organic Semiconductors, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, 1978
  • Master of Science (MSc.) in Physics with specialisation in Solid State Electronics, Acoustic Holography and Quantum Biology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, 1975. First Class
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc.) with honours in Physics from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, 1973. First Class with second position in the University
  • Indian School Certificate (I.S.C.) awarded by the University of Cambridge, UK from St. Xavier’s High School, Delhi, 1969. First Division

Previous Positions

1990 – 2006: Chief Scientist, NIIT Ltd., India’s largest multinational training and software services company. Heading the R&D Centre of the company and responsible for all innovations in computer applications, media and communications technology. Activities include management, research, teaching and writing. During this period (1990-2002), the company turnover increased from Indian Rupees (INR) 300 million to over INR 10 billion (US$250 million).

1987-1990: Director, Publishing Systems, United Database (India) Ltd., then India’s largest telephone directory publishing company. Heading all technical functions including research and development. Activities included management, research and systems development. During this period, the company turnover increased from INR 35 million to INR 750 million.

1983-1987: Head, Technology Division, United India Periodicals Pvt. Ltd., publishers of daily newspaper, the Patriot. Responsible for all digital technology including research and development. Activities included management, research, teaching, writing and systems development. During this period, the company turnover increased from INR 10 million to INR 30 million.

1982-1983: Manager, Product Development, National Institute of Information Technology.

1981-1982: Senior Scientific Officer, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Activities included research and teaching.

1980-1981: Research Fellow, Technical University of Vienna, Austria.

1979-1980: Research Associate, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Memberships

  • Vice President, All India Association for Educational Technology, India (1993-97)
  • Member, Press Club of India
  • Member, India Habitat Centre
  • Member, New York Academy of Sciences, USA
  • Member, Planetary Society, USA
  • Member, Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), USA
  • UNDP consultant, Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts, India (1995-97)

Honours and Awards

  • $1m TED Prize, 2013
  • Education Leadership Award, AdvancED, Washington, USA, 2012
  • Leonardo European Corporate Learning Award, 2012
  • The Klingenstein Award, Washington, 2011
  • Special Achievement award from Learning Without Frontiers, London, 2011
  • Honorary Doctorate from Delft Technological University, The Netherlands, 2011
  • Best book of the year award from Indian Council for Techical Education for 2007
  • Best Education Research Article in an Open Access Journal for 2005, The Communication of Research Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association, 2006
  • The Dewang Mehta award for innovation in IT, Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India, 2005
  • Finalist, World Technology Awards, education category, World Technology Network, San Francisco, June, 2003
  • The “Man for Peace” award for 2002 from the Together For Peace Foundation, Italy, 2002
  • The “Best Social Innovation of the year 2000” award from the Institute for social inventions, UK, 2000
  • The “Best ICT story” award from the IICD at the World Bank’s Global Knowledge II conference in Kuala Lumpur, March 2000
  • The Raizada award for the best paper of 1999 from the Computer Society of India, 1999
  • The Indo-Austrian Research Scholarship, 1980-1981
  • The National Merit Scholarship, 1969
  • The National Science Talent Scholarship, 1969-1978

Languages

English, Bengali, Hindi and a bit of German

Informal Interests

Science fiction, astronomy and astrophysics, bio-informatics and genetics.

My sesson