Sugata Militra is an Indian Educational Technology Professor. He was first recognised for his Ted talk in 2013. TED is an organisation that posts online talks and its slogan is “Ideas worth spreading”. Sugata Militra won a large prize of 1 million dollars for his efforts. The hole in the wall concept opened the eyes of many and gave the world an insight into the future offering an explanation to a different learning method.

He began his journey by travelling to remote areas of India, gathering information and data within schools. He would administer a set of tests in order to scope out the lowest achieving institutions. The results he collected displayed that the schools with the worst grades were in the most remote locations. This led Sugata to believe that it correlated to the electricity supply and infrastructure of these areas. Of course, it would be sensible to believe the reason these students weren’t achieving good grades was because they didn’t have the right resources to excel within their studies. To his surprise it was partially disconnected to this! He had administered another set of tests placed upon the teachers. He asked teachers from different locations whether they were happy and enjoying teaching at their schools. The results determined that teachers who taught in the most remote and poor areas stated “yes” to wanting to teach elsewhere and the teachers based in the cities or rich suburban areas said “no” when asked the same question. 

Sugata Militra stated “I would imagine that a teacher who walks in to class everyday wishing they were in some other school, probably has a deep impact on what happens to the results”. He then came to the conclusion that one of the main reasons for the low capability rates of students in more remote areas was due to the effort and support of their teachers. He strongly believed that the engagement from a teacher towards his/her student was extremely crucial towards the development and progress of their abilities. He is correcting in stating that a teacher needs to feel comfortable and happy so that they are more willing to be patient and have positive interactions with their students. 

One of the most thought-provoking pointers taken from watching Sugata’s Ted talk is when he asked teachers this interesting question. He asked them whether they thought they could be replaced by a machine. The all-round response was that of course they couldn’t. Which to me seemed obvious. The answer to this question was a complete eye opener and expressed the importance of good quality teaching. One of Sugata’s close friends explained that “A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be”. This makes perfect sense as a student should have the right to access the most effective learning source. This also correlates to the effort and engagement a teacher puts into his lessons.

Sugata Militra also found that the schools with more investments were more likely to have access to technological equipment. He analysed this aspect and stated that it is a lot less beneficial for students that come from good schools to have technological assistance and that it should be distributed towards the lower income schools. The reason for this is because students in affluent urban education systems are already high achievers and the difference that I.T support makes on them is minimal – dragging their 80% grades up to 83,’s & 84’s. However, if this support was to be implemented in poorer and lower achieving schools it could potentially rise the overall student’s grades of around 40% to a pass. This small element of support could have a tremendous effect on a pupil’s career. The direct message created here is that If you live in an area where teaching, material and structure quality is good you do not need an alternative education. This makes me think there should be a system created where underprivileged facilities are prioritised when IT support is handed out. Don’t you think?

Hole in the wall experiments

Sugata Militra created an experiment where he and his colleagues introduced technology into extremely poor areas with no lessons or teachings on how to browse the internet and use these platforms. The results he found were astonishing. “Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They couldn’t get enough. They began to click and explore. They began to learn how to use this strange thing. A few hours later, a visibly surprised Vivek said the children were actually surfing the Web.” Militra and his companions left the new form of technology there for 6 months, when they returned the children from the neighbourhood had become tech literate, they learned most of what was presented to them. Another extremely impressive aspect of his research was that the children who had never spoke a word of English, picked up multiple English sayings and words. They were able to use them in the correct format. Words such as ‘exit’ and ‘enter’ had become familiar with them.  

Children are naturally curious and are willing to put in the effort subconsciously to learn about the world. When this group of children were presented with a digital device, something completely new to them, they learnt to use it in a very short space of time. 

“6 -13 year olds can self-instruct in a connected environment irrespective of anything measurable”. Sugata Militra found that If they are given access to a computer they will teach themselves. The fact that they only had access to a singular computer between a whole neighbourhood of children and they all still leapt so far into the digital world amazes me the most. 300 children learnt how to use basic windows functions, they learnt how to browse, paint, chat & E-mail, use games and educational material and download content. These are all the necessary capabilities one needs when using the internet. Imagine the possibilities for children in poor areas if they were given more I.T access.

Sugata militra found in his 6 years of work that primary education can mostly happen on its own, it does not have to be imposed by any means of higher authority. These results are ground-breaking and could potentially lead to a self-organising system, where children can attain an educational objective without the need for teachers.

Written by Luc Coulson