Yes, But How Do We Bring On The Learning Revolution?

Ken RAnd so to London for the Tedx ‘Education Revolution’ event. For those who didn’t know, this event was inspired by Ken Robinson’s previous Ted Talk. Ken is great at inspiring people to re-think their purpose and practice, but is the first to admit, that bringing systemic change to the world of education is a tough job. Nevertheless, this event promised to delve deeper into the issues than is possible in the eclectic pot-pourri of the usual Ted events. This one had a specific focus (transforming education) and a plea to ‘turn ideas into action’. Great, sign me up.

Sadly, the opening music (Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ – how long did it take the organisers to think that one up?) set the tone. Now, I’m a big fan of, so it pains me to say that the day was deeply disappointing, on a number of levels.

First, the line-up of speakers was a sort of watered-down version of the main Ted event: some musicians, a few inspirational kids, lots of photos and personal stories, and lots and lots of gadgets. I’m not going to rate the presenters: some were good, some less so, but the biggest criticism I heard all day was that most of them seemed to be trotting out the kind of analysis of the problems, which suggested that many of them spent little, or none, of their time in schools. Goldie (bless) was a case in point.

Second, if you’re going to present best practice, make sure it really is unique – I know a number of teachers in the audience, and  some of them are doing more cutting edge work than most of what we saw on stage.

Third, if your keynote address (a video-taped message from Ken) stresses the centrality of the teacher-student relationship and pedagogy, at least get your presenters to focus on that. We had worthy presentations about nutrition, curriculum, social media and, of course, technology – but few insights (Ewan Macintosh’s plea for pedagogy which turns students into problem finders, not just problem solvers was one notable exception) into that central pedagogic relationship.

Fourth, inspiring kids are great, and give us all a warm fuzzy feeling, but, with all respect, they’re not our target audience. We need to hear from the disengaged, the disappointed, so that we can see the world through their eyes.

The biggest problem, however, is one of format. The standard Ted format  (one 6-18 minute presentation after another) is very good at turning idea-peddling into performance, and wise men and women into cult-figures, but I’d suggest it’s not very good for galvanising people into action. (It’s also, to be honest, generating a bit of that zealously uncritical cult-like conformity of response – some of the critical Tweets were given short-shrift).

To get real change to happen requires either political action (lobbying/advocacy), or  incremental transformation (one school at a time). Few speakers, with the exception of Ken Spours, talked about either. Inspired, no doubt, by the success of We Are What We Do, delegates were asked to make pledges about what they would do in their own practice to bring change about. However, since most of the examples presented weren’t from people who are facing a mutinous Yr 8 on a Thursday afternoon, there was precious little in the way of practical take-aways from the event. 

The people who can effect change, Principals and Headteachers, were conspicuous by their absence, either on the stage or in the audience, and shouldn’t they be the prime target?

Ken Spours talked about the reason why there has been no ‘slow accumulation of wisdom’ about what works in education: political interference. He also, argued, powerfully, for a national debate on the values we want to see in educational policy-making, and a shift from versus (academic vs vocational, knowledge vs skills) to the world of and. The only flaw in his logic (and very persuasive it is) is this: which Secretary of State for Education is going to voluntarily divest him/herself of the power invested in them, for the greater good?

It seems churlish to knock a well-meaning event, but if Ted is to move beyond intellectual inspiration, into social and political change, then events like this need to be re-thought. One of the ironies apparent today, was that speaker after speaker talked of the DIY culture which permeates social media and the world of social enterprise. Yet, apart from a couple of short breaks, the accumulated wisdom and experience in the room, (and there was lots of it) was left untapped by the organisers. The schooling system is notoriously difficult to transform, and demonstrating a few snazzy iPad apps (however impressive) isn’t going to do it.

If Ted is about turning ideas into action, then can we please hear from the people who face the fall-out, on a daily basis, from the undoubted systemic faults, and allow them to create their own solutions? 

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7 Responses to Yes, But How Do We Bring On The Learning Revolution?

  1. Kam says:

    Agree with most of the stuff on your post, but I think what’s missing is that the education revolution is relevant to all people and not just educators alone – who have platforms/conferences of their own where they can promote these ideas within the profession. The Ted brand gives it a bigger voice that reaches many types of passionate people not caught up in the mainstream and who are able to think differently around the problems and issues. Certainly a good step towards opening up the debate, but definite room for improvement – B+.

  2. livefreerange says:

    Could not agree more! I love and find it a useful and reliable resource both for inspiration and for teaching. I signed up for TEDx Education pretty much as soon as the tickets were released and had high hopes that it would bring the innovative perspectives we expect of TED speakers but solely and specifically from the world of education. Totally agree that it seems churlish to criticise an event with such good intentions but I just feel they really let themselves down. I have worked in Education for almost seven years and have seen many more innovative things going on in the classroom than were happening on stage. I would also like to see more of the disaffected groups on stage as well as interactive sessions with school leaders from so called “failing schools”. It’s very naive to think that institutions which are having the most problems and lowest results are in that position because they don’t know about the innovative practices other schools are using. It is a complex issue which should not and indeed can not be brought down to whether a school uses innovative technology, concentrates on vocational or practical learning and gives the students a big enough voice. Really great intentions but sadly put together seemingly without background experience or knowledge of the UK education landscape as it stands today. Don’t just listen to the criticisms to get your picture of what’s going on, perception of a system is often not the reality.

  3. notprathap says:

    Good points. Yes, the Principals and Headteachers are the prime target – they are the ones who work with the children at the end of the day!

  4. fredgarnett says:

    Good points David, the positive to take away is the big one that a lot of people turned up to be at a cool TED event with a focus on education. In terms of practicalities along with others I’ve been working on that for years.In response to Ewans call for a pedagogy for problem finding. We developed the Open Context Model of Learning in 2007. John Seeley Brown called it the most exciting thing happening in England and it has been used in many countries. More on the Heutagogic Archive but here is the Craft of Teaching 2011 version. We developed that into the Emergent Learning Model to enable self-organised informal learning to be recognised and anticipate EU i2015 targets have used that to develop the Ambient Learning City project in Manchester which has it’s first element in place, MOSI-ALONG, which we will grow over the next year. has helped us develop a new social media participation model, Aggregate then Curate, which can be used to link cultural content creation with educationally measurable learning, the BBC are thinking of adopting it. more. Always positive, always ignored in the Uk where High stakes assessment is the only game in town, such as co-creating Open Scholarship

  5. David Price says:

    Fred:Thanks for your comment, and the links. I look forward to exploring them!David Price, OBEMob: 0771 328 6954Follow me on Twitter: @davidpriceobeBlog: Health Blog:

  6. Chauncey Nartey says:

    Thanks for a great post, David. I think TED is a spark to ignite the passion that lies within us. It is not meant to change the world – we are. The type of revolution in education you and I both desire requires tough conversations, paradigm shifts, political/policy reform, cultural evolution and much, much more. To even pretend to tackle these topics in a forum like a TED conference would be futile, at best. At worst, it might discourage and dampen the very fire which brought people to the table.You’re right to identify the failure of this particular conference to involve all the right stakeholders and to ACTUALLY talk about anything really revolutionary. My guess, however, is that the fact that we are having this conversation means the ball is rolling. In that respect, TED’s mission has been accomplished. Now, it’s our turn.

  7. David Price says:

    Chauncey:Thanks for your kind words. And I’m conscious that I might appear to be the dampener on ‘the fire’ which brought people to the event. But I do think TED has a responsibility, when it bills an event as ‘bringing on the education revolution’, to go beyond inspiration.I don’t know if you work in schools, but my impression of the people I work with (dedicated teachers and school leaders who are in it for the long haul) is that they/we are all on a giant oil tanker, which we all want to see turned around. Doing our own thing, executing changes in practice (because that’s the only way thing really change) will help our students, but not those in the next school/county/country.A real revolution demands that we discuss paradigm shifts, policy shifts – exactly what you describe and a whole lot more. And it needn’t put off practitioners – I give speeches all the time and I talk about the purpose of education, values-based curriculum, student-led learning and social media in schools. My audiences are made up of policy makers, school leaders, teachers and parents. I’ve yet to have anyone complain that I was disheartening, or talking above their heads.My point is that we have to talk about systemic issues, because it’s the system that’s broken (not the inspirational people who work within it) but in a way which can be translated into practice.TEDx London could have shone a light on ways of changing the system from the inside out, that goes beyond criticising schools, but shows how they could be transformed (please see my imminent post for a simple example). It didn’t, but I hope future events will do so!

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