20 October 2010

ted's talks and next gen education

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.



  1. TED is a great thing for distribution of content and education and yes it is sort of a bandwagon. While it was a secret now there are TEDs in far off places like Mysore, India! Unfortunately, unless you are famous or part of the Davos circuit, or an exceptional notable than most of us will not be invited. As far as from an education perpsective, it does offer a lot for the general population to learn from and does it in a very high-quality and enjoyable manner. I like Ted and its ability to share information to everyone, but it seems a bit egalitarian.

    As far as great initiatives in education there will be a critical need to make some changes. I believe the US school system is largely a function of its teacher unions and a function of its property tax system where poor districts will always not have the ability to collect funds to equal the well off suburbs. Of course many of us have probably attended well to do upper middle class suburban public schools (where the tax base can support such schooling), but something has to be said about Americas' schools now where many of them have metal detectors and security is more important than teaching. While all can not be blamed on teachers, I believe parenting involvement is also a large factor in student learning success.

    It is ironic that the US still (maybe not for long) harbors the best tertiary education system. The university education in the US is still the best. Our primary and secondary schools need to improve, but US was famed for not following the British model of rote and memorization for which countries like India is famous for (memorize and dump). A global trend in developing countries now is to follow the IB (international baccalaureate model)which employs the mid-70s/80s US experiential comprehensive system in grades KG-12) and apply it to experience based participation with low student ratios.

    Another issue is interest. In many schools or even of our generation, if we look at our own high school classes most of our peers did not have much interest in science and math - the two foundations for technology (and if you connect the dots - future growth of any economy). This has continued to this day. Perhaps learning has to be made more fun. I agree with the experiential teaching models in that learning is driven more by experience and probably the best is to learn theories AND the application (not application alone, and not theory alone). Theory drives creativity but without seeing it in action, one can not easily learn.

    Now on the contrary education models, look at countries like Australia, Germany, Ireland, and Japan. These countries have a very good vocational system in that their high schools provide two channels - post secondary education or practical education in a specific field. Hence in these highly socialist countries, especially Australia, it makes no sense to actually put a child into a university. I am not sure how long this will last, but in these societies the average person (think cab driver, tradesmen) can earn a lot more because of their schooling and socialism. Look at most Australian firms and most of their management has not been to a university (many are creative). Whether this model will succeed in the long run, I am not sure but that is another topic).

    One thing we can agree to is change. The Khan concept is great, but we need to have the ability and willingness to change to a model that is easily adaptable and readily scalable. Can the Khan and other concepts reach out to the current generation in schools soon enough?

    Where will you be sending your kids to school?

  2. What i love about ted is how it is pushing people to think big but come up with legit solutions. I often listen to ted presentations which are completely unrelated to what I'm working on just to help me thing differently.

  3. im not too familiar with the IB curriculum, but if it marries math/science with experienced based-education, then I think we are well on our way. I wonder how other countries will adapt and who will take the lead on the education front. I agree our lead in tertiary education is only temporary without fundamental shifts in how we teach. Hopefully there are more Khans out there with noble intentions...