Sugata Mitra: Spelling, Grammar Not Needed, Says Million Dollar TED Winner

So Sugata Mitra observed that spelling and good grammar weren’t strictly necessary in today’s wicked world. The 61-year-old Newcastle University professor and winner of the TED Prize 2013 is now under fire for his remarks on the British education system.

The comments were published Friday in UK’s Telegraph and then repeated Saturday in the Daily Mail.

Mitra won the $1 million TED Prize for his plan to build cloud schools to allow children to learn from each other. So it was natural for the Telegraph’s education editor Graeme Paton to ask for his thoughts on the United Kingdom’s new spelling and grammar curriculum.

Under the new plan, primary school students would be expected to learn how to spell at least 200 complex words.

And here’s an excerpt of Sugata Mitra’s spelling thoughts:

“This emphasis on grammar and spelling, I find it a bit unnecessary because they are skills that were very essential maybe a hundred years ago but they are not right now.”

Mitra added that his smartphone corrects his spelling anyway. As for grammar, who needs it? He said he often skipped it in text messages, wrote in a so-called cryptic manner, and was understood perfectly well anyway.

I would have said that we’ve all figured that one out by now. But apparently the remarks have fueled a firestorm.

You know, spelling has been standardized for only a few brief centuries. The march of progress apparently went on perfectly well with or without proper spelling.

So I don’t think Mitra’s argument is terrible.

Especially if the UK has stumbled on just fine for decades if not centuries without a requirement that everybody learn how to spell the 200 complex words in question. Why call for these spelling tests now, in the 21st century?

What do you think? Is Sugata Mitra right? Are spelling and grammar lessons a waste of time that could be better spent on other subjects?

[photo by Barno Tanko via Shutterstock]

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