Rebranding Education with Feast on Good
Feast on Good, a New York based conference, inspired us with their timely question « Why is it so hard to turn what you learn at school into real-life skills? ». In order to partake in the global conversation, E-180 hosted a dinner on October 18th at ECTO, the Montreal cooperative co-working space where our headquarters are located. We invited people from different backgrounds to share a home cooked meal, in an open atmosphere where each felt they could share their opinion and be heard. Here are the fruits of that conversation. Oh, and people were excited to join in!
ROLLING ON SQUARE WHEELS
What is not working with the present system? Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education (absent from this year’s dinner), covers it accurately in this RSA animate video. He explains that school is presently based upon an outdated system of education that was developed nearly 2 centuries ago, which had different economic incentives, worldwide population and technology. In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”* Alexandre, an ethnographer and university professor, highlighted that the method of teaching in a unidirectional broadcast of knowledge limits connections towards the broadcaster and between peers. Sarah, who works as an artistic director and producer, pointed to the flaws in the model of « predictability of learning » , which supposes that, because people are gathered around one person speaking about a subject, learning will happen. How can we expect every individuals in a class to learn at the same pace, while each of them has their own rhythm, influenced by their culture, interests and skills?
EQUITY OF THE ZEN MASTER
One proposal made was to focus on equity instead of equality through adaptation to each student’s ability. For example, at the Conservatory of Music in Montreal, musicians at the same academic level are given challenges targeted at their personal strengths and weaknesses. Ralph,who designs games at Ubisoft, proposed to look at the video game industry for inspiration. In the quest for the Perfect Flow, whatever the level of difficulty selected, games constantly adapt themselves to the techniques and strategies of the players, like a Zen master always pushing them to the edge of their limits. « All the technology is here, all the algorithms… When will these tools be applied to school, to push education forward? »
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
Usually, classes present independent pieces of information as an end in itself, while perspective on how these pieces interact as a whole is not appropriately communicated. Therefore, students are missing the bigger picture and it affects their interest, which directly leads to a decrease in knowledge.
This situation is reflected in research, whereby it isolates itself in vocabulary, space and network. Since research is partially funded by the public, it should be easily accessible. To address this situation, Yale University developed the Responsive PhD program, which gives resources and workshops to translate and promote knowledge found in research.
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE WINS
Isolation is also a problem in business. Fast Company, a business media brand, recommends to « smash your silos » in order to enhance productivity. For example, a car manufacturer reduced the time of production for a new model from 3 years to 9 months by implementing collaboration from day one between all departments involved. Can we reproduce this type of collaboration in school? As a response, the multi dimensional Ha-Loan (who, amongst other things, works as a biologist, is an active membre of Acfas and is currently writing a children’s book) volunteers to teach biology to children, because their naive questions bring her work forward. This honest interaction, hard to replicate with adults due to the fear of judgement, represents perfectly the « win-win » of collaboration.
Another fascinating fact she has noticed is that, whenever she questioned the children, they always find the answer collectively.This phenomenon was also observed by Sugata Mitra, a British professor in educational technology, when he experimented new methods of self-learning in India. He shared his exceptional story in this Ted Talk, which inspired José Urbina Lopez, a primary school professor in a particularly dangerous Mexican neighbourhood, close to the US border. He applied Mitra’s findings to his class with the same extraordinary results; the failure rate was reduced from 45% to 7% and those who achieved excellence went from 0% to 63%. Read this Wired article for his detailed story that reaffirms the power of collectivity and how, with proper support, everyone has interest in learning.
During the conversation, some defended the idea of evaluation through grades, because they keep students motivated through competition. Others opposed that they actually are teacher driven, not student driven; comprehension should be the goal. We could inspire ourselves from Finland’s system of education, which is free of charge, does not integrate grades until the age of 16 and is based upon comprehension.
In the Finish system, if students understand, they progress to the next project. If they do not understand, they get the needed support until they grasp the topic. Two direct benefits are reducing stress and permitting everyone to learn at their own pace. Eryn, a university teacher, added that, to make it work, there needs to something at stake. While grades created no consensus, we all agreed the actual method of testing is improper. Sebastien best explained it, referring to his Bar exam : « In your career, one will never be tested on 4 years of learning in a 3 hour project, without access to any reference. »
OLD & NEW
The desire to make school translate to real life situations was thought provoking. Why not teach all that is necessary in adulthood, such as how to budget your finances; First Aid; the impact of sports, sleep and nutrition on health … ? But whose to draw the line of what is necessary? Leila, an anthropologist, underlined her conviction that knowledge should not be practical, but should rather aim for the maturation of individuals. This statement strongly relates to the art world, where functionality and quality are always debatable. Many expressed that art is badly represented in school, because it focuses solely on classics. Is laziness keeping us from teaching contemporary culture? Both could be covered in an interactive program, through comparisons between the themes of the latest piece of Kanye West or Dave St-Pierre to those of Shakespeare and Molière.
Even though there is much to improve, we all appreciate the ritualistic nature of school. Walking on the campus, entering the classroom and sitting at the desk prepares the mind for the event that will take place : learning. Conditions will promote or inhibit the human potential, which is explored through curiosity. Could we encourage teachers to nurture the inherent interests of students? Could we allow students to create their own path? Part of the role of professors will have to be redefined, by evolving to knowledge curators, guides or networkers, connecting us with the right « mentor » at the appropriate moment. We also need to acknowledge and recognize the value of teachers, in its actual form.
In our world, where we are only a click away from video chatting with NASA, connection is easier than ever. We need time to adapt to all the possibilities of this new reality. Meanwhile, let’s remind ourselves how empowering and exciting it is to learn.
This is exactly what we do at E-180, where we value the exchange of knowledge, one on one, face to face. On our platform, our community shares and demands knowledge, from the basics of tango dancing, to elementary notions of Punjabi, or even how to understand Noam Chomsky’s linguistics essays.
Together, let’s rebrand education.
« Teaching and learning should bring joy. (…) How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, (…) who had a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connections and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. (…) We can do this, we are Educators; we are born to do this. » – Rita Pierson
Thanks to all of our guests for their participation. In your seated order: Eryn, Leila, Alex, Sebastien, Ha Loan, Sarah, Ralph, Christine, Juan Carlos. A special thanks to Natasha, CEO (Chief Editor Officer). I invite all readers to keep the conversation active, by commenting, sharing pertinent articles and talking about it with your network. Through small actions, change happen.
You can learn all year long by registering to E-180, a site connecting you with like-minded people interested in sharing knowledge, face to face. To inspire you, here a few topic related offers
– Frank, who loves using pedagogy to develop eco-responsability – How to build an educative startup
– Belina, founder of Maffick Ltd, who teaches improvisation to business people to enhance happiness and innovation – Facilitating groups, improvisation mindset and techniques, play
– Jeff, an educator passionate about learning- How to design an educational intervention
* Citation from Wired’s article « How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Uneleash a Generation of Geniuses »