Reinventing Education – Some “Truly Radical Options”

It’s been a good day for progressive teachers, parents, students and educationalists who see the need to reinvent our systems of education in countries like the UK and the USA – and not simply “reform” them.

In the space of a single morning we had an edition of Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 featuring the words and wisdom of Sir Ken Robinson (about which we’ll write more later) and also a very significant editorial in the Observer that was headed:

The education debate is too rigid. Let’s learn from truly radical options

A focus on qualifications fails to address more fundamental concerns about teacher and pupil interaction

Over the past 20 years the Guardian and the Observer could and should have done a great deal more to campaign for the rights of children to enjoy an appropriate and meaningful education that goes far beyond mere schooling and the so-called ‘standards agenda’. In our view these newspaper have, till now, failed to do so. We hope that this editorial will mark for them a starting point for an unrelenting effort to help reinvent education.

The key points within the editorial are:

* The issue should not be whether a teacher is qualified, but qualified to do what.

* A focus on qualifications fails to address more fundamental concerns about what kind of people should be recruited to teach, both formally and informally

*  This argument about qualifications fails to address the values and the associated pedagogy that should guide our teachers and our schools

* It fails to ask what is the correct balance between a teacher directly teaching and a pedagogy that allows pupils the freedom to learn of their own accord – a subject which is addressed by Sugata Mitra elsewhere in the Observer.

* Active debates on these issues are taking place in many forums both domestically and internationally, often leading to radical changes along with stunning results.

* We need to encourage young people to become innovators and independent critical thinkers, able to adapt to a future in which many of the jobs they undertake have yet to be invented and the possibility that, over a lifetime, they might have to navigate their way through more than 20 different careers.

* Many now believe that the “traditional” school is an impediment to such goals.

* Young people are capable of learning in their own time, outside the classroom, motivated by genuine interest and passion.

* Young people should be given hands-on opportunities to direct their own learning through their own projects.

* “We don’t give answers,” says Dr Khalid S Al-Yahya, the creator of one such scheme. “We are only interested in raising questions. Learning is fuelled by engagement and curiosity.”

* The surprise to some is that the scheme, called Ithra, or “enrichment” in Arabic, is based in Saudi Arabia, not normally identified as the cradle of independent thinking. Last week, it won an award at the World Innovation Summit in Education (WISE) in Qatar.

* WISE is a three-day annual event that brings together more than 1,000 international educationalists, social entrepreneurs, project founders, young people, teachers, politicians and innovators. Its aim is to reinvent education for the 21st century.

* Issues such as the growing disengagement of young people, unemployment, inequality, poverty and the debate around what needs to be taught – by whom, how and where – and which skills are relevant to 21st-century education, make change essential.

* As one listened to the innovative and dramatic projects at WISE it was hard to think of a less radical approach to thinking and curriculums than the one being pursued by Mr Gove.

* WISE is based in Qatar, hardly a benchmark for democracy, human rights or gender equality. But WISE is a brave and risky pioneering endeavour that brings together radical thinkers. Innovation in education was high on the global agenda, as was evaluating what works and why.

* Michael Gove’s approach is anachronistic, such is his concern with the brightest, as measured only by IQ, and judged purely by a capacity to pass exams.

* This was reinforced by the announcement last Thursday that GCSEs are to be rejigged, yet again.

* Maths, English and grammar are vital, but the diverse ways in which they are taught, and how the non-cognitive skills of collaboration, team work, agency, self-discipline and self-belief are fostered – the keys to employability – are also important, if every child is to reach his or her full potential.

* As the educationalist Sir Kenneth Robinson said at WISE: “Education is an art form, not a delivery system. When did it turn into a branch of Fed-Ex?”

* When Mr Gove is finished telling us how to run our schools he should go to WISE. And learn.


Some Desert Island thoughts of Sir Ken Robinson:

“Young people need to understand the world within themselves as well as the world around them”

“To get to know yourself better, shut down your electronic devices”

“The Dalai Lama insists the way to world peace is through achieving personal peace”

“We need to pay attention to their individual differences – to refrain from over-programming them – in order to find their individual talents”

“Don’t regret growing old – it’s a privilege denied to many”

Ken Robinson 2013


Educational researcher Sugata Mitra is the winner of the 2013 TED Prize. His wish: Build a School in the Cloud, where children can explore and learn from one another.

Educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiments have shown that, in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest. In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.


The “Hole in the Wall” project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who’s now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it “minimally invasive education.”

At TED2013, Sugata Mitra made a bold TED Prize wish: Help me build a place where children can explore and learn on their own — and teach one another — using resouces from the worldwide cloud.

Sugata Mitra

See also:

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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