Professor Sugata Mitra
Prof of Educational Technology

Introduction

I am interested in self organising systems, particularly for primary education.

Background

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.

Research Interests

Current Work

Educational technology for remote and rural areas. Implementation of SOLEs all over the world. During 2013-16 building, monitoring and researching 'Schools in the Cloud', the project funded by the $1m TED prize 2013.

2011: Can children learn to read by themselves?
During 2011-12 Sugata was a visiting Professor at MIT, Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA on a research project.

2009: Conception and deployment of a Self Organised Mediation Environment (SOME) for children
The Oscar winning film 'Slumdog Millionaire' was based on a book by the same name inspired by Sugata's 'Hole in the wall' experiments. This was reported in the Guardian UK in February 2009 and resulted in a large number of volunteers willing to help with children in remote areas. Using Skype and a website www.solesandsomes.wikispaces.com a 'cloud' of mediators interact synchronously with children in Hyderabad and Shirgaon. Results are being tested.

2007-2009: Design, development and deployment of Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) for children
Funded by the education fund of Orient Global, designed and constructed 12 SOLE facilities in disadvantaged areas of Hyderabad and Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, India. Over 6000 children use these facilities for self organised learning. Resulted are being tested in Newcastle, UK for possible use in the region.

2001-2006: Deployment of outdoor rural kiosks for children
Funded by the International Finance Corporation, the Government of Delhi, the ICICI bank and the Government of India, constructed “hole in the wall” kiosks in remote villages of India, Cambodia and all over Africa. Over a five hundred computers now (2009) exist in these countries in the open and over 150,000 children use these for self-instruction and entertainment.

2000: India’s first infra-red and/or radio frequency digital speech delivery device
Led a team of researchers that built and deployed solid state, digital speech transmitters and receivers for a museum application. Visitors would “hear” exhibits describe themselves as they are approached. Currently deployed at Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India and at the Ramakrishna Mission, Delhi, India.

1999: Minimally Invasive Education
A set of experiments that set out to investigate the processes by which children self-instruct each other in skill areas. The experiments involve constructing outdoor Internet kiosks in rural and semi-urban areas, particularly where economically disadvantaged children live. The children are exposed to the technology with no instruction whatsoever. It is observed that they reach close to the levels of city children with no difficulty. Additional effects such as management skills, social skills, behaviour changes and acquisition of the English language has been observed as well. This work is continuing.
Ref: Mitra, Sugata et al., (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

1997: Meaning in Binary Strings
Using simple analytical techniques, this is an attempt to determine where “meaning” lies in binary string representations of media objects. This work is continuing.
Ref: Dataquest (India), May 31, (1998)

1996: The Cognitive User Interface
Using the psychological principles underlying human personality and communication, this is an attempt at constructing user interfaces that proact (instead of react) and adapt to human needs. This work is continuing.

1994: Storage and Retrieval of Human Personality
Current work continuing on the intriguing possibility of a digital, multisensory personality system that would encapsulate the basic graphical, vocal, mental and attitudinal characteristics of a person.
Ref: Telegraph, Calcutta, Monday, May 29 1995 (India).

1993: Effect of damage on Neural Networks
Started in the late eighties, among the first to suggest that artificial neural networks can be used to gain an understanding of brain malfunction in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Ref: Proc. 1994 IEEE/SMC Conference, Vol.1, Pg 989 (USA).

1991: The Virtual Organism
A concept that extrapolates beyond the Graphical User Interface to schemes that interact with a user in an organic, multisensory manner. Integrates Database management Systems, Multimedia, Neural Networks and Expert Systems using the Left and Right Brain model.
Ref: Artificial Intelligence and India, IEEE Asia Pacific Horizon, Jan’93-Mar’93, Pg54 (India).

1988: Hyperlinking
A concept for non-linear interconnection of “Hyper-screens” left over from application programs after they have completed execution. This gives a general framework for the development of almost all multimedia and virtual reality applications as well as a new and wider meaning to graphical user interfaces.
Ref: Imaginet: An Associative, Non-sequential multimedia Storage and Retrieval System
S.Mitra and Ajay Magon, Multimedia Computer and Communications: Technology, Application and Enterprise (INFOCOM ‘92), Tata McGraw Hill pg 20-30, November 5-7, 1992, Bombay (India)
Also: Sunday Magazine, August 11, 1993 (India).

1985: Distributed processing over Local Area Networks
One of the earliest methods for breaking down large computational and database problems into smaller segments for simultaneous processing by many small computers. Reduced the cost of database publishing hardware by several orders of magnitude.
Ref: Computers Today, October 1988, pg 73 (India).

1983: A diagnostic method for computer programming training
A simple and powerful method that involves detection of bugs purposely put into a program. Currently used for software quality control in several companies including Motorola.
Ref: Sugata Mitra and R.S.Pawar, Data Training, Vol2, No3, February 1983 (USA).

1982: A correlation between location and sensitivity of human sense organs
A speculative concept connecting physiology and quanta that could be of seminal interest to robotics today.
Ref: A Correlation between the Location and Sensitivity of Human Sense Organs, A.K. Bannerjee and S.Mitra, Spec. Science and Tech. Vol 5 No2 pg 141, 1982 (Australia).

1978: The relationship between the structure and function of organic molecules
Through an interesting thought experiment and a large amount of computation showed that the properties of the Pthalocyanine group of molecules depend on their shapes more than on the constituent atoms. Later applied this thinking to automatic typographic design.
Ref: Crystal Structure Sensitivity of the Band Structure of Organic Semiconductors, S.C. Mathur and S. Mitra, J.Phys.C Solid State, Vol 12 No.2 1979 (UK).

Future Research

Self organising systems, learning and consciousness

Postgraduate Supervision

PhD supervision of five students

Esteem Indicators

Top four esteem indicators:

(1) 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.

(2) The Dewang Mehta award for innovation in IT, Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India, 2005.

(3) Awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Delft Technological University, The Netherlands, 2010

(4) Invited to the join the MIT Media Lab, USA as visiting professor

Keynote speeches- including LEA conferences

PLEASE NOTE THAT DUE TO THE NUMBER OF INVITATIONS THIS SECTION IS NO LONGER UPDATED

Membership of learned societies

Member, New York Academy of Sciences, USA
Member, Planetary Society, USA
Member, Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), USA
Editorships Gaurav Bhatnagar, Shikha Mehta, Sugata Mitra. (eds), (2002), Introduction To Multimedia Systems, San Diego, California and London: Academic

Membership of editorial boards

Membership of advisory or working groups Member of the Study Team on Human Resource Development (Educational Technology Expert), Government of India, 11th Five Year Plan.

Member of the Study Team on Research and Development, Government of India, 11th Five Year Plan.

UNDP Consultant on Multimedia, Indira Gandhi National Centre For Arts, India

Co-Chair, ALT 2011, UK 

Fellowships

Mitra is a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International 

Prizes

$1m TED Prize 2013

Honorary Doctorate from Delft Technological University, The Netherlands, 2011

Special Achievement award from Learning Without Frontiers, London, 2011

The Klingenstein Award, Washington, 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

The Telly Award of the International Cable Broadcasters Association for “The Hole in the Wall” (2004) documentary.

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 for the year 2000” from the Institute for Social Inventions, UK, 2000

Other

A documentary film about The School in the Cloud is curently being made by Sundance winner Jerry Rothwell, due to be premiered in 2015.

Sugata’s work has also been the subject of a full length documentary feature film ‘The Hole in the Wall’ (2003) produced and directed by Gil Rossellini and Global Vision and premiered a the United Nations and World Bank, USA. With a commentary by Arthur C. Clarke it has received more than 20 international awards at major film festivals.

A shorter documentary, also called ‘The Hole in the Wall’ (2004) was produced by Susan Baumel and Voyage Productions. This was also premiered at the World Bank and has been broadcast on many cable and satellite television channels, recently being awarded the Telly Award of the International Cable Broadcasters Association

The Asian Development Bank produced a documentary on my work called “Digital Dividends” (2001), watched widely in South East Asia

Influence on policy The Government of India’ s policy on the use of educational technology in remote and rural areas is derived from Mitra’s work.

The term “minimally invasive education” (MIE) was coined by Sugata and is now used universally to described the situation where education is carried out with the minimum of intervention.

Influence on practice The curriculae and pedagogy developed by Sugata in the period 1990-2005 has been used by NIIT Limited to train over 3 million people worldwide. One in every 5 IT professionals in India has been trained at some stage by NIIT.

The process and technology by which directories (such as phone books and Yellow Pages) are produced using Local Area Networks was developed by Sugata.

Funding

2010: Donation of £5000 for children's development
2010: Melbourne government consulting GBP 10,000
2010: Consulting for CetHums Foundation, Chile GBP 19,000
2009: KTP with ICS Glasgow, GBP 60,000 from Scottish Government
2009: Donation of £1000 for children's development
2006-2009: Orient Global USD 200,000 (part of James Tooley's project)
2002-2005: ICICI Bank USD 100,000
2001-2005: World Bank/IFC USD 1.5 Million
2002-2005: Government of Delhi USD 200,000

Patents

Indian Patent No. 217117
A new/improved cognitive
Kiosk for the use in rural, outdoor and tropical environment (2008)
Sugata Mitra, Vivek Rana

Indian Patent No. 217595
A fault tolerant computing system
Sugata Mitra, Sanjay Gupta, S. Minz

Projects

Postgraduate Teaching

Educational Technology module in the M.Ed. programme.