TED Conversations

Nick Heap

Facilitator of change and learning, Practical Developmental Ideas (self employed)

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In our present chaos, we need the enthusiasm, ability to learn and try things that children have naturally. Can we learn these from them?

We are all going through a period of rapid, unpredictable and sometimes chaotic change. Nothing is certain any more. We need to be adaptable, flexible, confident, resourceful and willing and able to learn and try new things in order to cope with this environment. It would also be great if doing so was fun and personally rewarding.

The only people who have these qualities in abundance everywhere are very young children. (This is marvellously shown in Sugata Mitra's talk.) Education almost everywhere seems to be about pumping adult knowledge and skills into children. I think the demands of the 21'st century requires us do the opposite as well. We adults need to learn from children, so we can face our challenges with the joy, enthusiasm and confidence they show naturally.

One simple way to start might be to notice how young children go about learning. We could find out what the best conditions are to support this. Some brave adults to immerse themselves in a similar environment and try and emulate their young role models.

This is just one slightly wacky idea. I would be interested to learn if these thoughts make sense to you and if you have any other ways we could take this further.


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  • Jan 30 2013: "Education almost everywhere seems to be about pumping adult knowledge and skills into children."

    This has always been the role of education, teaching children how to survive and prosper when they grow up. To some extent, this will always have negative side effects. Some people think that education stifles creativity. Of course it does; another word for an academic subject is discipline, which is the opposite of play.

    Changing this core purpose of education, even slightly, will also have negative side effects.

    This is not a matter of "should". This is just a choice. What do we want education to accomplish?

    Until we have a clear answer to that question, with specific measurable objectives, our education system, and the adults it produces, will continue to seem inadequate. Since we all seem to agree that educated adults should be creative and curious, perhaps we should start by developing measures for creativity and curiosity. In this fast changing world, we also need a measure for adaptability.

    These ideas are not crazy, but they are very difficult to apply. It is perhaps impossible to have a school system that produces both highly disciplined technicians and highly creative designers. We may need multiple school systems, each with a different set of objectives.
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      Jan 30 2013: Hi Barry

      I have been fascinated by the Sudbury Valley School www.sudval.org recently. The book about it "Free at Last" is utterly inspiring. This school has no curriculum and children from 4 to 18 entirely follow their own interests. They have no exams and no grades. None the less 80% of them go to the college of their first choice. They report that children don't naturally study easy things when they are left to themselves, they deliberately go for things that are personally challenging. This school turns all the assumptions most of us have about education on their heads. You can get the book via the website. I couldn't put it down!

      I agree we need a debate about what education is for. It would make a great subject for a a TED conversation. Do you fancy starting one?

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