Sanket Gupta

Design Engineer, Marvell Semiconductor

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How can a common man participate in "revolutionizing" education?

Having spoken in TED in 2006 about how schools kill creativity, Sir Ken Robinson returned in 2010 to urge everyone to revolutionize education. He said about how we take a "fast-food" approach to deliver educated products out of the system. However, in order to really use the enormous depths of human talent, we will need to take an "organic" approach to education. We need revolution and not evolution.

So, How do we actually achieve revolution? Are there any concrete examples of schools/ colleges which do not follow the "fast-food" approach? Are there ways in which a common man can participate in "revolutionizing" education?
I am sure this is a question which commonly haunts everyone among us. But, what we lack is a coordinated set of actions to make a change. How do we do it?

  • Nov 18 2011: I would say stop being common...expand yourself, take risks and charge ahead with whatever you have in mind, mobilize people around you, get them to join in on your vision, they will give you strength to push through barriers and they will inspire you to no longer see yourself as common. We are only as common as we believe ourselves to be and I say be extraordinary my friend!
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    Nov 19 2011: Not one person can change the world, but one person can inspire others to change the world with him.

    To change anything, you will need support, ideas, a cause, and a reason. The same goes for education. If you want to change the way we learn than you need to speak out about it, write a book, start a blog, start a TED conversation, etc. If you want to make a change then you must be commited to the change and be willing to do things most people would find challenging.
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      Nov 21 2011: Thanks for sharing. I love your line "you must be commited to the change and be willing to do things most people would find challenging". Agree so much!
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    Dec 10 2011: Here are some practical ideas:

    * Volunteer at your local school(s) to teach practical skills to children
    * Volunteer at childrens' clubs and other venues to do the same (e.g. Boys and Girls clubs, Scouting organizations, etc.)
    * Parents: read with your children every day!
    * Employers: offer "jobshadow" and "internship" opportunities to young adults where they get to do real work (not just manual labor) and begin to learn a trade before graduating from public schools
    * Government workers: offer similar opportunities to young adults so they can learn the practical aspects of their country's political process
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    Nov 20 2011: Until one does anything different / extraordinary s/he remains common. So common people can revolutionize by doing something revolutionary through her/his participation and become someone uncommon or extraordinary :)
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      Nov 21 2011: Agreed. It is we who label ourselves "common". Our efforts alone determine how much "common" or "extraordinary" we are.
      But, by common I meant a student studying in a school; or a person working; or a housewife. How can they contribute to a major change; when they do not have any significant resources or backing from anyone?
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        Nov 22 2011: Understand your point.I agree with what Jake Williams wrote above, it actually Commitment that is needed not resource in most cases.

        She was departmental store worker . on way to her work was denied to have a seat on bus she didn't give up so become ROSA PARKS of Civil Rights Movement in US.

        Mohan Das was a lawyer in South Africa, but his commitment to fight back unjust after that fateful train incidence made him Mahatma Gandhi.

        He was university teacher back in 70s in Bangladesh, but his evening walk observation of plight of poor in near by Village made him to do something different using less than 50 USD from his own pocket. Now he is known as Dr. Younus reference of Micro-Credit and won Noble Prize for Peace alongwith his organization Grameen Bank.

        List can go on (sorry couldn't give example from education field but I think in TED you can see Sugata Mitras effort, resource was not big and he was not anyone extraordinary at the begining but defintely now he is)

        In Readers Digest once read about a poor village boy of 6/7 of Bangladesh, selected as something called "Everyday Hero" (if I rightly remember). The event was as belowAs per his usual daily play schedule he was running along the railway track near his village (it's very usual , may sound impossible in country like Singapore , yes talking about kid running on railway track). Suddenly he noticed , the Rail Way Track is dislocated. He knew after sometime a train will be passing. Thinking of the risk he ran back to home, brought a Red Saree of his mother , tying it with a stick he stood beside railway track far ahead of the damaged part. After long wait the train came, driver of train saw someone standing with something RED, so stopped. Got down asked why (there was no Railway station or railway worker nearby) he is doing so. The kid told about the damaged track....

        Life saved, property extra-ordinary that KID was ....even if he doesn't achieve anything special in rest of his l
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          Nov 23 2011: Thanks for pointing out numerous inspiring examples to follow. These outstanding examples serve to inspire and motivate us by showing us that we "can" do what we really want to do. No resources or backing is really necessary.

          But, perhaps I had framed the question wrongly earlier. Let me take the example of Facebook. Before Facebook, there were ways in which people could have maintained contact with friends via email, phone or sms. But, once Facebook arrived it created a "social" revolution, in the sense, that it was just so easy to be in touch with our friends. What Facebook did was to reduce our "effort" to achieve the same goal: creating and maintaining a social network with people.

          Hence, my question is about how do we achieve that kind of revolution? A revolution in education which is so easy and mass-implementable. Yes, people who really want a change can still do it as seen in Sugata Mitras case, but how do we create something to sweep the mass public into action; into creating an educational revolution?
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      Nov 23 2011: Beautifully said. When we try to do good through the unusual we can make a big difference in what ever we do and what ever issue we care about . Look at what SIr Ken Robinson is doing for education as an inspiration for changes you can make even at TED events.
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      Dec 10 2011: Mr Solaiman, so good to hear your wise input again! (I've been out of the loop for a while, too many things in my hands these days...)

      "Until one does anything different / extraordinary s/he remains common."

      What I think is great about this is, those that are extraordinary were never motivated by BECOMING different in the first place -they WERE DIFFERENT! They had unusual curiosity, energy, vision, or faith that moved them to try the unthinkable, to go the extra mile regardless of the risks or the reward.
      Their "otherness" was the engine, making a difference was their prize.

      Oh, that we learn not to run for the trophy in this life race that we are in, but for the joy of running itself, and the joy we can bring to others...
      Then we will realize that all the rest will come with it, no needs, no wants...
      Then we will realize that we too were different!
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        Dec 12 2011: Ms. Eisner, thanks for your compliment. Just back to reply you, as realized like many other friends of mine I am a total mis-fit here in TED conversation.

        Agree with you fully what you talked about curiosity....then about energy , vision, faith & drive. I pack all these what you said in one word which I call "PASSION"....

        "we learn not to run for the trophy in this life race that we are in , but for the joy of running itself"..... what a beautiful expression of yours it is!!!

        Simply loved it....:)
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          Dec 12 2011: "... as realized like many other friends of mine I am a toatl mis-fit here in TED conversation."

          No, no, Mr. Solaiman, you totally belong here...

          Now, the other way around is very possible: your participation in TED may qualify you as a misfit where you live and work, that's almost granted but that's what we were talking about from the begining. You ARE DIFFERENT, that's their gain :-)
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    Nov 19 2011: When you do, please share your experience with your colleagues and with us. Maybe you will start a trend!
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    Nov 19 2011: hi, nice to know u gupta, im andra from indonesia.

    Its such an interesting topic indeed, hmm in my opinion, its not the matter about the school, college, etc for us to participate in "revolutionizing" in a education like u said.

    There are so may ways for us to take part in implementing the revolution could be real, such as, in my country there's a group of people called "pengajar muda" (or "young teacher" in English language). It's an appellation for a group of few people whose make a journey to remote area in east Indonesia, and they had to teach people in there for 3-4 weeks without any "FEE / PAYMENT", they teach the villagers how to count, read, pray, and also manners. They did it just for "FREE" without any "FEE". Any accommodation, tickets, on other related expense they bear itself. What is the reason which makes they have to go to other city where is cold and insecure, no light or hot bath tub..

    Because they have HEART, yap, heart, they do it with their heart. They deserved experience, pleasure, happiness, more and more than the money they supposed to get. They deserved inner satisfaction, and the most important thing is, they have made a revolution in education which is inspired everyone, not only for my country locally, but also for the people over the country globally :) so, it's not the matter from what we through to take a part for a revolution, but if we do it with our heart, we could gives more than just a revolution itself.


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      Nov 20 2011: Hi Andra,
      Thank you for sharing the story of "pengajar muda". Hopefully, it might come on TED one day and inspire others!
      Yeah, you are right. It is our heart which is most important. Even if we teach one student, its great. One student at a time by everyone can create an enormous impact!
      Lets begin a revolution in our life first, it will lead to revolution in the society in general!
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    Nov 19 2011: As hands-on learning under the influence of a mentor is one way of introducing students to authentic learning, you as a design engineer could take some students under wing to show them what kinds of questions arise in your field and see if you can find small pieces they can actually do under your supervision.I think this would make a greater contribution to students' educations than top down lecture, whether that is made available online or presented in the classroom.If one examines the careers of eminent creative people, a mentor of this type has often been a part of the person's rearing.You would not perhaps reach as many students that way as by lecturing at them, but if many "common" people did this, it would revolutionize educatiion.
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      Nov 19 2011: I agree about the "mentor-disciple" thing that you are talking about. And indeed, most eminent and creative people have had mentors they relied upon in their young age. If everyone acts as a mentor to someone else, a "revolution" can happen. I completely agree with you.

      And thanks for the suggestion! I will indeed try to teach or mentor some students in my field.
  • Nov 18 2011: I think looking for teachable moment in everyday life and taking the time to share your knowledge is a mindset that needs to be fostered across the country. Going to the grocery store and seeing who can get the closest to the actual price of all the items, identify the most fruits and vegetables, find things that start with a particular letter, etc. are all teachable moments. Going to the hardware store and getting kids to name the tools and describe what they are used for is a simple teachable moment. Having your kids use tools to take apart the old lawn mower, dishwasher, or similar device before it is discarded (age appropriate of course) are also teachable moments. If we look for these opportunities and take advantage of them, then a culture of education is fostered. There is not the magic pill solution to education. It just takes time, willingness, patience, and knowledge. School systems at all levels will follow suit.
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      Nov 19 2011: Small moments create big moments. And as you say, look for small moments to teach people something, even if its a single phrase or sentence, that will go a long way! If everyone starts doing that, the system will have to change. Revolution will not begin with the system, it will begin with each one of us. Revolution in the system will be a by-product.
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    Dec 18 2011: These are all very positive and affirming ideas. This issue is one that holds everyone's future within it. I have seen the "fast food" service term used as a metaphor for the current system and I also think that a "wal mart" type approach is one that is being used in these massive schools where the kids who might really climb to the top or self actualize their abilities get discouraged and give up as they are lost in the shuffle.
    A revolution is indeed the thing most needed. A fully educated society, any society, is a much more human and capable one. The idea of an educational "Facebook" approach is brilliant and the person or people capable of manifesting such a thing would have many people signing up immediately to explore this option.
    I think we are on the edge of something that we can sort of make out in the fog where before it was all unimaginable. The role that teachers play in this whole thing is going to be crucial. Perhaps the true revolution is going to be the human factor and how it is involved in the loop with the information and the technology. Obviously the younger minds are not responding as well to the 19th century mode of instruction but also they cannot all, some can but not all, be responsible enough to grasp the basics they need to further themselves and look at the internet and other tools as distractions or mere forms of entertainment. If you can incorporate language building, reading, science, and higher level math into something as fun as XBOX you would not only have much smarter children, at least here in America, but also billions of dollars in your pocket.
    Their is a role which will become a mixture of teacher and facilitator that is being defined now in classrooms all over the world. The revolution would be to accelerate the idea of this and help it have an initial definition or construct that can built upon. This way less money can be spent on burdensome facilities and athletics and more on making our future.
  • Dec 18 2011: It's probably been said, but if a teacher, mentor, or parent can pin point a talent or interest of a child at an early stage the "fast food" approach can be avoided for the most part. However I'm not sure that can always be done.

    Something that might be able to reduce the feel of the "fast food" approach, is exposing kids to different ideas, career possibilities and what subjects are important for those careers.

    The moment a student sees a subject in school ties in to the career or interest they have, going to that class becomes less of a chore and probably even becomes exciting.

    So I guess providing kids with that kind of info (in a way that will hold their attention) at an early stage.
  • Dec 17 2011: Hi. I hope you realize that your question's premise is sexist. You mentioned "man" only. After all the world conferences and world agreements advocating women's participation in all aspects of life, you still forget "woman" in your question. Try to include women in the equation on education (and include them in a very obvious way), and you'll get even more better answers to your question. :)
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      Dec 17 2011: Hi liza, I never meant it to be sexist. By common man, I mean common person. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should not have used the word "man" :)
      Anyways, thanks for pointing out!
  • Dec 14 2011: Start by helping yourself. Then help others through their plights. Or do both at the same time. If their problems are somehow rooted in the educational system, find someone who can address the issue or better yet, be someone who can address it in the future.

    The main factor is to speak up. You don't need to organize a rally. Talk to people young and old, pretty soon you'll make friends in high places. If you are creative enough, make a documentary, resources are everywhere.
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      Dec 17 2011: Thanks for sharing! I am reminded of a quote "Be the Change you want to see in the world."
  • Dec 12 2011: My friend, the day you choose to be extraordinary count on me to walk by your side through the darkest alley way any where in the world and face any impossible odds we may encounter. Start something and others will join your side. Inspire us! I await your first step...
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    Dec 12 2011: Vote for Ron Paul in 2012 and we have a chance to start the education revolution.
  • Dec 2 2011: Yes there are examples! we don't! schools don't need to follow the fast-food approach. once you change, you won't look back. education is an art. We have used what you call 'a coordinated set of actions to make a change'. we created a school development plan to implement change several years ago and each year we continue to change and move our development forward. it can be done as long as all the staff are on board and it is a whole school approach. the leadership team cant just expect everyone to change overnight and anyway that would be just as bad as any other dictated method which renders the school non-creative again ( creative being the innovation of the individual rather than relating to an object 'created' - creativity occurs when individuals have an attitude of creativity and this depends on a whole set of factors, non of which can originate outside the individual - it its the choice of the individual to be/become creative) educationalists may have to define and redefine what creativity is, and many teachers may be shocked to discover that they dont know and dont know what to do about it. this could lead to tension so time and a whole lot of discussion and discovery could be necessary. leadership can create time for this. working with artists may or may not be an answer. for example, one year, for one project we opted to offer children the opportunity to work with a professional artist. we interviewed many artists to lead the project. it took a long time because our criteria had changed - we didnt want someone to encourage children to help them produce an object/objects/final piece, we wanted an artist to encourage them to explore their creativity. instruction isn't education. educate - to lead towards, (but you cant make the horse drink)
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    Nov 30 2011: You are participating in education every time that you learn or teach something, so if you spend part your free time doing one or both of those then you are making a small difference.
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    Nov 29 2011: A revolution begins by identifying where we want to go. For education this means we must decide for ourselves and together what the purpose of education should be. This becomes the guiding star for the development of a new system. To this end please consider answering the question yourself and joining others in that discussion at
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    Nov 29 2011: I have always felt one teacher, 20 or more students of same age, was not the best way. I feel if the class were divided into 6 grades, the teacher could teach from the top down. The kids are all teachers. The kids could learn at different levels. The kids may feel more comfortable expressing difficult area to someone who recently had the same hurdle and hear how they made it through. Every time a student helps another learn something, they would be reinforcing the lesson in their minds. The teacher would then be able to concentrate on individual students. I saw a TED lecture where the lecturer told of his experience with computers teaching kids without a teacher. One computer four pupils.

    I have my own big plan for changing education. It involves providing a means for virtual learning to the poorest on the planet. See me.
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      Nov 29 2011: What you are describing in the beginning already exists in the organization of a Montessori classroom. You'll always get 3to6 or 6to9 (etc) year-olds in the same group, the oldest sharing with the youngest what they already master in terms of learning. It's a beautiful and enriching experience for any child to get to be the teacher.
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        Nov 30 2011: I think as more inputs for data increase, the real problem of learning becomes as with our senses, a matter of limiting input. Narrowing and focus become crucial. Also determining if information is current and correct. I have been aware of the need for a way to rate information for validity for some time now. I feel there should be a way for people to know when inputting information (whether for pleasure or study) if the information is accurate, without doing major research. A little meter in corner of display showing validity against known facts.

        My big plan is to actually provide a home with access to internet for any individual on planet. I see this as the first step to the goal of fixing the problems we face. ALL of the problems. Health, mass relocation of populations, utilization of resources, stability of societies, economic growth, redistribution of wealth, and for the inevitable need for growth into the solar system. And hopefully the biggest problem of all, UNITY.
  • Nov 28 2011: It is not under one man's responsibility to change the education system. The lack of activities that foster creativity in school is an internal issue that needs to be solved by those who run the institutions.
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    Nov 27 2011: Get involved with students locally. Create opportunities for students.

    There is an architect in my area that has gotten involved with our school club SAVE (Students Against Violating the Earth) and created opportunities for students to really get excited about impacting the world. They've built a passive cooling system out of cheap and accessible materials for third world countries. Previous students involved with the project have helped design and install the same system at a local bank and this year's have the opportunity to help build another system for a local fire station.

    Basically, get involved. That is organic education.

    Share lectures from iTunes U:
    - MIT:
    - Stanford:
    - Berkeley:

    Form local meetups with other "common" men and women to discuss what can be changed in your school district for your children and the children in your area. Attend your local board meetings.

    Then share everything you've done and inspire people to do the same.
  • Nov 24 2011: For concrete examples of schools that do not follow the fast food approach visit or or or

    Pay close attention to Essential Schools Ten Principles.

    Read Hargreaves and Shirley, "The Fourth Way". Also, read the Hargreaves study, "Change Over Time".

    Spread the word.
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    Nov 20 2011: It is simple shift in focus away from external parameters and artificial systems of measurement onto the student/learner.
  • Nov 19 2011: Revolutionizing our education system can only come from the street; from the workplace! Camps spread throughout the country in unique locations for enjoying the local enviroment is beneficial for relaxed atmosphere learning . Then you bring in instructers from the workplace on two week intervals to teach kids thier profession. You retate kids from ages 12 through18 continously to learn and participate in hands on learning techniques from the people in a wide range of professions.IE. Local Industry sends an engineer in for two weeks two give kids the true picture of how building a product can be done . Local hospitals send in doctors, Service industries send in managers to teach team building and so on and so on. Creates interest and practical jobs skills not being done in the schools system today at lower levels.
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      Nov 20 2011: Its a great idea to sort of get the professionals, teachers and others to go the field and teach their professions to the students. But, what about the economic aspect of it? Who is willing to organize such large scale activities at no economic returns? Which professionals are willing to give up their work for a week or two to "help" others?

      These are the questions we need to ponder. But, ideally, if such a thing happens, we can truly revolutionize the way students think!
  • Nov 19 2011: First in yesterday's world the majority of knowledge actually came from industry. Today with technology a major subject and research being done on campus in many areas plus the Internet that has changed.....BUT.....changing people, particularly academia is a much more difficult task. AS a pointed criticism why is the master apprentice teaching method (the most effective possible) non existent when technology allows the lecture but have the professor available as the mentor (and why not have the best presenter or professor give the lecture....once recorded it exists for all). To further embarrass the academic elitists go to the Internet and do a simple query. How do students learn? Two hours later you will discover (with the exception of going to sites on primates) very little is known. II this an assumption that what exists is best(?) or an entire industry that is very slow to improve and only very recently has even started to use the Internet for Education....despite it's being around for 20 years. Nor does it question it's methods (In industry no improvement = failure). Sadly white papers of any substance are missing and that was with 9 hours prowling the net and college papers. To ultimately embarrass them ask the simplest of all questions.....what is the purpose of school? If you get back anything other than "to learn to think" they are possibly not "sapien". If you subscribe to this then you have a platform to speak from for change. Start the's cost and mankind effective.
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    Nov 19 2011: As the first person in my family to attend University, eight years after graduation, and in the middle of my graduate coursework, I often think of this very question. First, in terms of "the American Dream", and second, in terms of financial stability for anybody who focuses on moving their respective community forward.

    1) I have determined that understanding math is key for learning. Mainly algebra. I feel it is the baseline thought process for complex decision making, which all people need in this complex society. Therefore, we need to do a better job at teaching math, and not just to kids who "get" math, but to every kid in terms that they understand. Math for Athletes, Math for Musicians, Math for Mechanics... the principles travel across everything, because math is the universal language.

    2) referencing my initial statements, my education faltered because my parents couldnt help me study, because they graduated in the 70's and never really had to apply much of what they learned in high school. They did what most people who graduated then did, they went to work. Today, the world has gotten exponentially complex in a short period of time, and doenst look like it will slow down. Therefore anybody who only has a high school education or less is significantly handicapped, along with their children. because you cant just tell a kid to hit the books and expect things to start making sense. For as well intentioned as my parents were, this is how they thought. They didnt know it, but they didnt feel they needed to. And I needed to know it, simply because that is what the school says at this moment in time.

    The real revolution in education is parents who can show their children how knowledge is applied in the real world. Teachers can only do so much, especially before they are criticized for stepping outside their "boundaries".

    Teachers = Information, Parents = Applied Knowledge.
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    Nov 18 2011: Hi Sanket! I notice that you are a design engineer and that encompasses a lot of talents. Have you ever considered contributing to something like the Kahn Academy to help young people really understand the skills needed to do your kind of work. It might be one way for a common man to make a step toward the revolution you seek. I wish you success!
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      Nov 18 2011: Hi Debra, Thank you for your comment. Yes, I guess Khan Academy is definitely a great place to revolutionize the way people learn. I frequently visit Khan Academy, but I never thought of contributing from the viewpoint of my field. Thanks for shedding the light! :)
      Wish you success too in your endeavors!