I am definitely late to the TED party, but i think it's worth discussing since I think it seems to be a proxy of what our education will (or should) look like in the years to come.
Originally an annual technology conference, TED only recently came into the mainstream conversation when it began to post some of the best talks online. Hosted by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, TED hosts annual conferences where the best and brightest give presentations on innovation, science and technology, philosophy, and other trends that can make the world a better place ($100k prizes are given in a contest for entrepreneurs to launch ideas that can change the world) . The who's who in every major field of study has presented, and the site has been viewed almost 300M times since 2007. Major publications like Forbes opine that TED is more important than Harvard.
While I doubt i'll ever get invited to participate, I do enjoy its robust library. It's truly amazing the perspectives and content available from so many thought leaders for free. One talk that intrigued me was creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson's talk on how our current education system kills creativity. He discusses how we put kids in boxes based on what educators value today, the paradox of having such a rigid formal education system lasting 18 years when we cannot even fathom what the world will look like in five. It used to be a degree would insure a job; but thanks to technology and globalization, that's just not the case.
Alot of what Sir Robinson's diatrage makes sense. How can the static system of education address internet time? The bigger question is how is the system going to adapt to the new world? I'm not talking about Ipads for 10 year olds, rather how more fundamentally can we adapt our deeply rooted system into something that addresses what the future really holds. Literacy and basic math skills are just not going to be enough anymore. Creativity and cognitive thinking will prevail over memorization and standarized tests.
You already see glimpses of the change. Former hedge fund manager and MIT grad Salman Khan established Khan Academy in which he posts tutorials on basically everything kids learn (that he himself writes) in an easily digestable and available format. John Doerr and every VC has been chomping at the bit to invest in Khan Academy, but they've been limited to becoming donors (since its non-profit). By reviewing some of the lessons, its clear to me how textbooks will ultimately fade over time just as the bookhouses that sell them are today. Kids now learn in small doses and in different mediums. Goodbye Moby Dick, hello wikipedia.
Other less altruistic initiatives are also becoming more pervasive. Vocational schools, free or subsidized university offerings, for-profit education concerns, Kumon and other learning centers, and of course online degrees and education. These are all big business right now. Some, in my opinion, are just a fad; but others will continue to thrive.
The world is changing quickly and so should our education system if our children are to thrive. TED and Khan are great examples of education initiatives that the more fortunate can give to the masses. Their content is not just the plain "how to" stuff you find, but the type of content had been reserved to the elite and well educated in the past. It will take alot more these great ideas to help the next generation to compete, adapt, and of course, change the world.