TED Conversations

Sarah Shewey

CEO/Founder, Happily


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How can we empower kids to reshape the education system? *A TEDActive Education Project Question*


The TEDActive Education Project will explore how children can make an impact on the education system. We hope to come out of this project with fresh ideas for ways kids can start an education revolution.

At TEDActive2011 in Palm Springs, an amazing group of individuals came together as a group to come up with a simple micro-action solution for empowering kids to be a part of the education reform conversations. After a quick 36 hour period of time, the team made a website that allows students to upload videos of their ideas on education reform.

You can empower a student to share their voice at http://elev8ed.org.

Also, please share your own ideas here, or by starting a new conversation tagged with TEDActiveEDU so we can all follow.


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    Apr 21 2011: We need to embed student voice into how we make education decisions--educational service districts, school boards, lobbying organizations. For a start, why aren't there more students responding to this question? :) I often find myself being the only person under 25 at many of the education conferences which I attend. We need to start asking students about questions like project-based learning, balance of old-school vs. "new-school" methods, etc., instead of just presenting viewpoints saying "This is best for students" without getting any input from students themselves.

    I really appreciate what the education ministry of Ontario is doing with student voice through its Speakup project: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/index.html --getting young people to actually contribute their ideas and feedback to the officials in charge. More and more organizations are becoming aware of the importance of student voice. I was lucky enough to write a blog for the Huffington Post on some large and small steps I think schools should take: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adora-svitak/changes-schools-should-ma_b_829406.html

    Social networking--Facebook especially--can provide an excellent way to gauge opinions on new changes and proposed ideas. Asking quick short questions, for instance, and getting responses. A lot of my peers aren't on Twitter, but definitely love Facebook.

    It starts with simple questions: what would you change about your school? What are you interested in learning? How do you learn best? If you were the teacher/principal/Secretary of Education, what steps would you take? At the all-youth organized and attended TEDxRedmond conference, which I'm organizing for the second time this year, we hear from speakers who are all under 18 about their opinions on a range of diverse issues like these (and others). Through mediums like TED Conversations, TEDx conferences, and school governance boards, I hope to see more students getting involved in education change.
    • Apr 21 2011: Hi Adora. I wonder if students are as conscious of the education process as you are. They will only recommend cosmetic changes to the schooling system, which will not bring about any substantial change and not deal with the pathologies that beset this system. Being a teacher I gave my students many alternative ideas, but only a handful responded. Others only thought about cosmetic changes to the schooling system. Like it or not, most of humanity conforms. Just because something is there, they feel inclined to consider it legitimate, and any changes to that order of things brings about anxiety.
      There is a great book by Eric Fromm which talks about this: Fear of Freedom.
      • May 6 2011: True, true as a high school teacher I see this too. Perhaps students would first think of cosmetic changes to the educational system, ones that they could easily discuss without risk of adult censure or peer embarassment. If there was a permanent virtual or physical "suggestion box" I bet that the average intensity of student suggestions would increase. A common class president platform is changing the length of the lunch period, however, students have a hyper sense of fairness and very strong feelings on a variety of subjects. Like most behaviors, learning to speak up and provide input is one that will need encouragement and which may even have to be taught explicitly
      • May 6 2011: I am a current student in the Dutch schooling system, although currently in my last year and almost finished. Three years ago I started doing research on the topic of education, because I felt like the way our educational system worked was wrong.
        Now I realize that there aren't many students that know and are capable of participating in that discussion with sufficient background knowledge, but I also know that they do exist. I have heard so many times that I cannot, may not and should not try to participate in debates on topics like these because of my age. In the meantime I see students around me that are suffering, literally suffering under the influence of bad education, including myself. I love to learn, but I have spend the last 6 years of my life working really hard to learn so little. I know that would I have been allowed to create my own way of educating 'me', I would have been capable of learning a lot more, both factual knowledge and 'skills'. School is not 'too hard', it's just not capable of challenging students. It frustrates me that I do not have enough time to learn as much as I could and want to because of school, the institution that should be learning me stuff. If I could, I would do anything to change the system. Not just make amends, 'cosmetic changes', but really change something, change the core. But if I am not allowed or if people do not want me to participate in the discussion, it becomes very hard for me to either try to make changes or even learn more about the subject.
        To answer your question: yes, these students do exist. So before you exclude them from the debate, reconsider your premise that they do not want to. Maybe you ust need to find a way to interest them, to show them that they can make a change, that their opinion is actually valued, in contrary to what they get told or shown in schools everyday!
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      Apr 21 2011: Maybe more students aren't responding to this question because it's not being asked in a place where more students will see it. TED's great, but I think you're the exception to the TEDster rule, Adora. Most people having this conversation are out of school, or at least out of high school. If you want student engagement, then the conversation needs to be brought to the students - not just the ones we think will agree, but students who've never been given the opportunity to think about it before.

      I also think that as long as we continue to talk about "reforming the *education system*" instead of looking at new ways to understand the *learning process," nothing is going to change. The problem with the education system is just that - it's a "system." We don't learn in systems. We learn from practice, from experiences, from one another.
      • May 8 2011: And there in a nutshell is the answer, thanks Theresa :)
        I believe that allowing young people to participate in their own platform where they can exchange their own ideas will foster 'crowd induced innovation' of these ideas whatever the area of interest being discussed in a group. In an online scenario like this the cream will rise and support will garner around certain notions of percieved fairness, improvement and so on. The problem so often seems to be that education fails to educate and students have no voice, still labouring under the victorian era's ageistic perception that 'children should be seen and not heard'.
        Young minds, as older minds, order information as a basic function. The information comes from the outside and so to expect them to have opinions that resonate with our informed and lofty ideas is somewhat short sighted. we need to value the contribution as it is made, making an effort to translate it into our own terms.
        As for 'new ways to understand the learning process'...just how many ideas about education do we need before implementration of what is blazingly obvious. Children at home playing computer games are not stimulated by current modes of education. The teacher must become the conduit of information, not the source, and children should be educated through those means by which they percieve the world. Sticking to the intellect as the primary focus of education is ridiculable.
        I remember when I finally learned how to learn in an event where it suddenly became clear to me (autodidactically) that I could create something, picture an outcome and work towards it, this was an actual experience of creativity without being told to create. How the education system had failed after 17 years in teaching me this I am at a loss to explain. More likely the case is closer to Ken Robinson's assertion that we have this creativity naturally but are educated out of it.
        We also need community integration as part of education...

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