London: “Let’s Start an Education Revolution!”

28 Nov

If you couldn’t already tell, I am a bit of a conference/workshop/festival/event junkie. So it’s no surprise that the day after Picnic ended, I left for London on a 7:30 AM flight to attend the TEDxLondon conference later that day. I had been running on very little sleep, but I was determined! I had found out about the TED conference a week before it was happening, and it just “happened” to be focused on Education (the slogan was “Let’s start an education revolution!”) I really wanted to attend, and after venturing onto the Facebook page created for the event, I saw that a woman named Darina from an education organization called Suklaa was advertising free tickets for students and people under 25 to attend. It helps being young sometimes 🙂 So I got a free ticket, and my uncle nicely offered to buy the plane ticket as an early birthday present. Before I knew it, I was jetting off to one of my favorite cities for a week!

The TEDxLondon conference was inspired by Sir Ken Robinson’s previous TED talk, and he is the most-viewed TED speaker ever. Unfortunately he could not attend, but he had recorded his speech through video, which was played on a screen at the start of the conference.

The conference was broken into three concise sections: What’s Wrong, What’s Happening, and What’s Right. Sir Ken’s talk came in the What’s Wrong section. Below are a few notes that came out of his talk (you should have seen how furiously I was scribbling down his great quotes, there were so many!)

According to Sir Ken, the basic functions of education for a learner are: 

  •  Economic: Economies of the 21st century are not the same as when education was conceived. Education should evolve to prepare students to enter new types of economies (for example, we are currently said to be entering a creative and knowledge economy, whereas education was first systematized during an industrial economy.)
  • Cultural: As our world becomes increasingly globalized and interconnected, the ability to understand other cultures is critical.
  • Personal: Education should be about cultivating people and their talents, abilities, etc. As Ken eloquently put it, many educational systems today are “dislocating people from their natural talents.” I have seen this in many cases where students may be passionate or talented in a certain area, but if their education discredits it or makes it difficult to further cultivate the knowledge or skills, the student becomes less motivated or passionate about learning. In my own opinion, the integration of identity-development in education or learning is important to leading to more happy and therefore more positively productive citizens.

He also talked about the fact that there is too much conformity in the current system. Every student is different in their passions and learning style, and to try to systematize learning so that we can mass educate students makes it difficult to preserve this truth.

To illustrate this further with a personal story: I had a conversation one day in the Scottish hostel I was working in for a while as a work exchange, where many of the other workers happened to be teachers taking career breaks. One man in particular, a middle school math teacher from New Zealand, seemed to look down upon having to cater to different learning styles. Apparently the traditional system worked well enough for him, and it was hard for him to empathize with those that may not see things the way he sees them, and who are confined by this narrow definition of learning. It is people like him that I actually benefit from meeting, as they challenge me to think about the other viewpoint and to re-affirm why I believe so strongly in what I am learning from people like Sir Ken. As Sir Ken says, “education is a process that depends upon students becoming properly engaged.” How can we honestly expect students to be engaged and intrinsically motivated if we are forcing them through a system that “dislocates them from their natural talents” or is very irrelevant to what they need to actually know for their future? 

Another point mentioned by several speakers is creative thinking and adaptability. Traditional education asks students to solve problems, which is definitely a needed skill. But in our new economy and frankly our new global society, we need to be good problem finders in addition to problem solvers. As I have realized during my eduventure, school is easy in that it provides a template and guide to what is expected of you. But in our new economy, we need citizens and people who can go out in the world and not only solve problems given to them by employers, but who can create their own initiatives, be entrepreneurial, and who can recognize problems to be solved without an external force or authority finding the problem for them. 

This also brings in Ken’s point about generating partnerships and engaging with community. When people have been asking me recently what kind of education I am interested in, I find myself continually mentioning community-based learning. I think this comes from my own experience growing up and learning within a community setting. Yes, service learning and volunteerism is important, but I feel like the traditional definition of those things doesn’t go far enough. When “required” learning in the classroom becomes linked with community problems, I believe that this increases students’ intrinsic motivation and citizenship, as well as furthers their sense of self-identity. When students can combine their passions and skills with what a community needs or is lacking, this will, with no doubt in my mind, give that learner a greater sense of self-worth, which increases their happiness as well as inspire them to continue to learn. Another good example of this, which brings in another value of design, is Project H, which I have profiled previously. Emily Pilloton, designer and creator of the design firm, tested this aspect of community-based learning and problem finding by teaching students in a poor area of North Carolina skills in order to revitalize their failing town economy.

Sir Ken’s Recommendations:

1) Education has to be personalized

2) We need to improve creative opportunities for teachers

3) Education has to be customized to the needs of the student. 

4) We need to generate partnerships with the community

If you have time, check out this awesome RSAnimate video from a talk by Sir Ken on Changing Educational Paradigms:


I will continue to post up learning from the TEDxLondon experience, as well as other stories from my 4 month learning journey in Europe. I am now back in my beloved SF Bay Area and although it is nice to be back, I already miss the people I met and the whole experience I had.


One Response to “London: “Let’s Start an Education Revolution!””

  1. sophie December 2, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    i just love your writing, Weez- you are absolutely right about the interactions between community and learner. well written. can’t wait to work with you more!

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