Sugata Mitra is well- known for his "Hole in the Wall" experiment, and broadly quoted in works on education and literacy. Here is a transcript of an interview of Prof. Sugata Mitra with Harrogate Online from the past.
Harrogate Online:- I have a lot of friends who had reacted strongly on Twitter during one of your presentation, as you were suggesting that teachers are redundant. Could you respond to them? Do you really think teachers are redundant now?
Sugata Mitra:- No not now but they will be. Like many other professions, I don’t think anything special about the teaching profession but like doctor or bus drivers, they all be redundant one day.
Harrogate Online:- So, what should we start planning to do if we are going to redundant in future?
Sugata Mitra:- I guess, if we have the ability to quickly change profession as new professions are born. I think this is the best preparation we can do at this point of time. My generation had static professions and the one after that has dynamic professions, but professions which change over decades. The next one after that, we will have professions which change much more rapidly than that. So, it’s almost, as though, your entire education is swept from under your feet and you told that not needed anymore; you need them to quickly not fall down but get on to the next one.
Harrogate Online:- So should teachers be using computers in the same way to scale-up and prepare themself?
Sugata Mitra:- It’s not so much about computers anymore, in a sense everything is a computer or nothing is a computer. It’s not that box on the table with a monitor. It’s not about the computer; it’s about the Internet. We must keep in mind that the Internet is an intangible. You can’t say where is the Internet, I have lost the Internet. So when dealing with intangibles, we should not use the paradigm of how we deal with tangibles, which is I think a frequently made mistake right now. When you say, this is the way the Internet should be used as though it was a WC.
Harrogate Online:- One of the things some of teachers are mentioning- it’s fine to say that kids can go to the Internet and can learn things through that. But one of the main reasons students still come to class or parents still push to go to the school is motivational factor. So what is that motivation and how do I find that motivation.
Sugata Mitra:- By going to school, I am not remotely suggesting that the school as the institution should not be there. Children go to school in order to meet their friends; you will ask any child, he will tell you that. The fact that they also need to study there and children might even feel that I go to school to study. But what do you like about going to school would be friends. So that has to continue, except that what you learn at school has to change quit significantly. How you tested what you have learnt, has to also change very significantly.
Harrogate Online:- Yeah! The testing is interesting term. How can testing changed to be more inclusive what students want to learn?
Sugata Mitra:- The testing, I think has to focus now on your ability to answer questions and to solve problems using whatever is available. Oppose to the way now is, your ability to answer question and solve problems using only your head and nothing else; that’s change we need.
Harrogate Online:- So the Internet has become an extension of your intelligence?
Sugata Mitra:- Your internet, mobile phone, friends, these are the things which we use in real life to solve problems. So we should be tested in our ability to solve problems using those methods.
Harrogate Online:- If students are still going to school but there teacher aren’t needed anymore. How the schools must be structured, so the students just go and chat with the students but not do any work?
Sugata Mitra:- When I say teachers may not be required. I am not talking the presence and absence of a human being. I guess, I myself have not put this correctly, I will say, teaching may not be required. So the teachers there, he is a friend; he may say things what shall we do today, he might say that you have not thought of it but Geology is a very interesting subject; something like that.
Harrogate Online:- So he would be kind of directing and prompting students towards different things?
Sugata Mitra:- He would actually do something very specific. He would raise issues and questions which perhaps the children would not be able to raise by themselves. Moreover, he will raise them in a way such that you as the learner really liked to know the answer.
Harrogate Online:- One of the criticism- a lot of your research work include working with kids in India. I think it’s fair to say Indian kids are very much motivated and still think of school and being able to go to school. But a lot of British kids have very disillusion with the school. They are very negative about school. Some people thing they do not have motivation to go school and learn.
Sugata Mitra:- Well! It’s a shortcoming of my writing actually. My answer to your question is that I have plenty of data on British children. Except that, the data came in at a time when people were beginning to call me all the time to listen what I had done before. So I haven’t had a chance to publish that data. I am very happy you asked this question.
First of all, let me say very categorically, it is not true that English children do not engage with school activities but it is true that they do not engage themselves in the activities that do not make sense to them. Indian children do not behave that way because they come from a more victoriam background than the English children, where they are told that they cannot refuse to do anything. Here, since children are not told that, they are quit open to disengage if they can’t make sense out of something, which I think is brilliant.
Every time I manage to evoke their curiosity; they have engaged completely. They have equal to or better than concentration levels from Asian children. They work better collaboratively than Asian children do and they produce deeper answer than Asian children, mainly because their English is much better. I don’t want to flatter England but you have got brilliant children. And I think it is really unfair perhaps damaging to hold a view that they are not as engaged with learning as others are; this is not true.