Sugata Mitra – The future of schools is in asking questions, not in biflating
Professor Sugata Mitra recently gave an interview for Forbes at Colors of Ostrava in the Czech Republic.
Sugata Mitra was made famous for his experiment where he placed a computer connected to the Internet in the wall of a room with some of the poorest children in the world without telling him anything or learning to treat him.
Upon returning to the room, he found that the children had learned how to use the computer themselves, and what’s more, thanks to the Internet, they were able to find information about anything and learn about it. He found that children’s innate sense of learning would increase when they were given the freedom to explore the Internet in small groups.
Mitra’s experiment attracted education professionals, as well as the entertainment industry, when 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.
In the interview, Professor Sugata Mitra explains the archaic nature of the current education system which harks back “to the 17th century when the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom were on the rise as colonisers… they created very similar systems whose primary task was to prepare the children in their first 15 years of life for the rest of their lives… Education was like a packed suitcase for the whole holiday.” And this model continued because people did not have the resources (books or teachers) beyond school to further develop their knowledge.
Alternatively, we now find ourselves swamped with information and knowledge thanks to the internet and smartphones. Therefore Mitra argues that we no longer need the “packed suitcase” the current education system attempts to build for you – the ability to learn and gain knowledge is now endless beyond the classroom.
Watch ‘The future of learning’:
Mitra’s alternative to the current system is one that creates “happy, healthy and productive people”. However he states that we should also remember that the term “productive” has changed in meaning – being a productive member of society no longer means have a skill such “as a farmer or blacksmith who made horseshoes” – this is all changing due to our increasing reliance on machines.
As a result of the rapidly changing world around us, Mitra says it’s important to ask questions about the big changes that are yet to come and that we do not know of yet. It’s very easy to focus on things that are familiar, serving only the imaginary packing of the suitcase.
On the future of education and whether our current system will change, Mitra has an optimistic outlook, stating that he does see a will to change, with almost everyone aware that a certain change in the current system is necessary. However if this need is not realised, Mitra suggests that information technology could be the catalyst that forces this change.
Sugata Mitra maintains that the internet, used by putting children in small groups, can be a quicker and more efficient way of learning, with teachers becoming less and less important. He argues for moving away from memorising facts and moving towards answering big, serious questions.
Finally, on whether there will be a need for schools in the future, Mitra says: “Certainly, because one of the main functions of the school is bringing together the children who communicate with each other in a safe environment… almost nobody remembers the teachings themselves from school. But they often recall their classmates and what they did in their free time, whether good or bad. And that’s simply what we enjoyed when attending school – our classmates, not learning. So something like a school, whatever that may be called in the future, will still have to exist so that children can safely meet and be together.”
Watch Sugata’s award winning TED Talk here: