Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. Chief Scientist, Emeritus, at NIIT.
He is the instigator of the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, where in the year 1999 a computer was placed in a kiosk created within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi and children were allowed to freely use it. The experiment aimed at proving that kids could be taught computers very easily without any formal training. Sugata termed this as Minimally Invasive Education (MIE). The experiment has since been repeated at many places, HIW has more than 23 kiosks in rural India. In 2004 the experiment was also carried on in Cambodia. His interests include Children’s Education, Remote Presence, Self-organising systems, Cognitive Systems, Physics and Consciousness.
The Hole in the Wall experiment has left a mark on popular culture. Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup read about Mitra’s experiment and was inspired to write his debut novel Q and A-this subsequently went on to become the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Prof. Mitra is a leading proponent of MIE. He is a Ph.D. in Physics and credited with more that 25 inventions in the area of cognitive science and education technology. He was conferred the prestigious Dewang Mehta Award for Innovation in Information Technology in the year 2005.
Professor Mitra was recently described as a “polymath” by the University of London and his 30 years of research spans a wide range of disciplines.
Starting with molecular orbital computation in the 1970s, Mitra 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 a Ph.D. in Solid State Physics from 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 that is now in use by the military (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 Ph.D. 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 he created 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 amongst 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 amongst the first people in the world 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 pp.20-30, (1992), Bombay, India).
Professor Mitra’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. Culminating and, perhaps, towering over his previous work, are his “hole in the wall” experiments with children’s learning. Since 1999, he has convincingly demonstrated that groups of children, irrespective of who or where they are, can learn to use computers and the Internet on their own using public computers in open spaces such as roads and playgrounds (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. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/mitra.html). His publication was judged the best open access publication in the world for 2005 and he was awarded the Diwang Mehta award for innovation in IT in the same year.
Since the 1970s, Professor Mitra’s publications and work has resulted in training and development of perhaps a million young Indians, amongst 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.