Sugata Mitra: The Future of Learning

Here are my notes from Sugata Mitra’s talk at the 2011 NAIS Annual Conference:

The Future of Learning: Sugata Mitra (


The children of the Earth can be divided into the following categories:

50,000,000 have ample resources

200,000,000 have adequate resources

750,000,000 have inadequate or no resources

This can lead to three kinds of schools. Those which are located away from urban centers in third world countries are measurably worse. In developed countries, equalization of incomes has had a negative effect on children’s motivation:

“Why should I work hard to be a professor like you when I can make as much driving a bus?” (UK adolescent)

In undeveloped countries , scarce resources lead to tough choices:

“The internet is down, because we used the money to repair the toilets.” (India)

There are places in every country where schools cannot be built and teachers will not go. The good teachers leave the undesirable locations ASAP.

Mitra’s experiment: put computers in these undesirable locations (slums, rural areas, etc.), so children can have access to the internet. To protect them, he set them up like ATMs – holes in walls.

Results: after 8 hours, children were surfing the internet. They taught themselves English to learn how to better use the computer! Important finding: children learn the uses of computers that they find relevant.

After 9 months, children’s computer literacy was 43%, which is comparable to most adults in developed countries.

“Groups of children can learn to use computers and the internet regardless of where they are.”

The Hyderabad Experiment: use speech-to-text software to train children to speak good English. He put a computer in the class, asked them to learn how to use the software, then left. Students figured out how to download the speaking OED and used it to model proper articulation. They were soon speaking understandable English.

“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.” (Arthur C. Clarke)

“Groups of children can navigate the internet and achieve educational objectives of their own.”


The Kalikuppan Experiment: can poor Indian children teach themselves DNA replication on their own? Mitra installed a hole-in-the-wall computer, posed the question, “How does DNA replicate?”, and left. After 2 months, there was 30% understanding of the topic. He asked an intern to be an instructor. She said she didn’t know anything about DNA or biology, but he told her to simply encourage the students. After 2 more months, comprehension was up to 50%.

The Gateshead Experiment: in a poor area of Australia, he worked with a class of middle schoolers that was both white and aborigine. He deliberately limited the number of computers to force the students to group into 4s and 5s. He asked them, “What is an ion?”, then left. The children ended up in integrated groups, and everyone contributed to the final reports.

In the UK, Mitra has recruited volunteer grandmothers to be “encouragers” via webcam. The results are very positive.

“Information search and reading comprehension are the most essential skills for Primary Education today.”

Also, you need a rational system of belief to convince children to learn.

Speculation: Education is a self-organizing system where learning is an emergent phenomenon.

Update: It seems all is not as marvelous as Dr. Mitra’s presentation would imply. Here’s a recent evaluation of “hole-in-a-wall” learning.


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