Sugata Mitra has now joined the active discussion thread on this post

A few days ago, I posted Questions About Sugata Mitra & His “Holes In The Wall.”

Here’s a guest post Rory Gallagher wrote in response. Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section.

Rory Gallagher’s “bio”: Teacher of French and Japanese at a UK secondary school (13-18). Interested in complexity theory, self-organised learning, equal intelligence and, well, the whole learning process. An ignorant (but curious) schoolmaster… I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Sugata Mitra when he came to give a talk at my school in October 2012, and have stayed in contact with him since to exchange ideas, to update him on my experiments with SOLEs in the classroom, and to share with him my research on complexity thinking.

Professor Sugata Mitra certainly seems to raise more questions than he answers, but that is, I believe, the essence of his philosophy. He challenges us to take ownership of, and to justify, our own beliefs on education and pedagogy. His child-like curiosity is infectious, and at many moments as he recounts his experiences one genuinely gets the impression that he is “winging it”.

His ideas and and the publicity he has received, starting with his contribution to the film “Slumdog millionaire”, and continuing with his TED talks and the TED prize this year, have sparked a great deal of debate and criticism. TED talks themselves have been criticised for giving a public forum (and thereby credence and gravitas) to ideas that have not been academically verified. Whilst Mitra has published his findings and he is encouraging others to do the same (there is a growing movement of teachers experimenting with Self-Organised Learning Environments), much of the evidence so far is anecdotal.

Interestingly much of the criticism of Mitra on the web seems to refer back to this article by Donald Clark. Clark himself is referring to an article by Payal Arora  which is far less critical of Mitra or his ideas. Arora makes the difference between the idea and the initiative, and suggests that many Hole in the Wall projects failed because of the lack of community help to run them.

Another criticism is that Mitra is “anti-teacher” and his use of Arthur C Clarke’s quotation – “Any teacher that can be replaced by a robot, should be” –  can certainly be interpreted in many ways. Mitra’s (actually Negroponte’s) oft-quoted question “Is knowing obsolete?” is highly provocative, but it is indicative of the wider interest that Mitra’s ideas are generating that the British council and WISE – Qatar Foundation were recently seriously debating whether the teaching profession as we have known it will become obsolete.

Questions to further provoke and engage.

  1. Why does Mitra provoke such a negative reaction among some people? Are his ideas dangerous?
  2. What do the findings that Mitra has published actually demonstrate? Is there only anecdotal evidence?
  3. Can education really be a self-organising environment where learning is an emergent phenomenon? Is it already in certain cases?
  4. What is the role of the teacher in the future of education? Will it change fundamentally?
  5. Will we be discussing Sugata Mitra in 10 years time?