Sugata Mitra – the professor with his head in the cloud

Peter Wilby, Jul 02, 2016
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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The Guardian has not had a good few weeks, and this article continues the trend. The thesis is simple: Sugata Mitra "brushes aside all established thinking about education." Why, "Even Jean Piaget’s supposedly immutable stages of child development – familiar to every trained teacher – now need a rethink, according to Mitra." But there is no research supporting his position. "His claims need to be tested by properly controlled experiments that allow for the galvanising effects temporarily created by any new idea, which will lead to papers published in reputable, peer-reviewed academic journals." So, "to convince us of that, I fear, he needs far better evidence than he has or seems likely to get."

So I ask: why should Mitra be concerned about convincing an editorialist for the Guardian, particularly one that still believes Piaget? Why is Mitra right only if published in certain journals? He's right if the evidence says he's right, no matter who writes it, who it convinces or where it's published. As for the suggestion that "he needs fully independent evaluation, including a means of measuring long-term results after the novelty effects wear off," I say "Fine. You pay for it. You conduct it. It's not up to Mitra to do this, and not a failing of his that he hasn't."

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