Sugata Mitra on the role of technology in education

While looking around on the website of the Institute of International and Economic Affairs (IIEA, an Dublin-based think-tank), I discovered the following lecture by Sugata Mitra. Mitra, originally trained as a physicist, and then got into programming and technology, which has led to his present work on getting computers into schools and the ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment. Ken Robinson’s TED talk gets a lot of attention (arguably too much if you’re me and you’re arguing), and though it undoubtedly introduced many people to the debates surrounding what education is and should be, it never quite hit the spot for me. Mitra’s lecture here – which admittedly isn’t subject to the TED tyranny of 20 minutes – goes from the history of education and technology in education, to the implications of sociological research on teaching and education, to specific policy and technical suggestions. It’s an hour long, but well worth watching. Alternatively, check out his own two TED talks below (Mitra also won the TED Prize in 2013). Much cause for optimism with the future of technology in education, mercifully free of the platitudes of tech in pedagogy and ‘there’s an app for that’.

Infrastructure and Superstructure


Again and again, however, such confusion causes people who should know better to decide that, because they have located some pervasive superstructural pattern (a prevalence of petty street crime in neighborhood X, say), superstructure here is actually producing all the visible infrastructural changes (“There was an influx of Puerto Ricans in neighborhood X, and a subsequent rise in drugs and petty street crimes; because of this, eventually the neighborhood was driven down till it became an all but abandoned slum where nobody, not even the Puerto Ricans, would live anymore . . .”), when, at the infrastructural level, what has actually happened is that landlords-as-a-class have realized that the older buildings in neighborhood X require more maintenance and thus a greater expenditure, so that they concentrate all their economic interest on newer properties with larger living units in neighborhood Y to the east, which is popular with young white upwardly mobile executives. The result is the decline of neighborhood X, of which street crime, drugs, and so on are only a symptom—though, as superstructural elements, those symptoms stabilize (i.e., help to assure) that decline and combat any small local attempts to reverse it by less than a major infrastructural change.

Samuel R. Delany, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, p. 163.