Education is a global religion

Charles Leadbeater went looking for radical new forms of education — and found them in the slums of Rio and Kibera, where some of the world’s poorest kids are finding transformative new ways to learn. And this informal, disruptive new kind of school, he says, is what all schools need to become.

This is a very useful short talk by Charles Leadbeater, there’s a wonderfully poignant moment in the talk when he makes the assertion that “Well, education is a global religion. And education, plus technology, is a great source of hope.” which struck me as a rather profound statement. With so much of the worlds population unable to access education through “traditional” means we are now seeing the rise of grass roots led, transformative, and potentially highly disruptive new forms of education.

How do you get learning to people when there are no teachers? As Charles suggests you have to find ways of getting learning to people through technology, people and places that are different. That’s part of the rationale behind what some of us are trying to achieve through projects like The Peer 2 Peer University.

Charles also makes a very important point about the difference between push and pull models of education:

When you go to places like this what you see is that education in these settings works by pull, not push. Most of our education system is push. I was literally pushed to school. When you get to school, things are pushed at you, knowledge, exams, systems, timetables
If you want to attract people like Juanderson who could, for instance, buy guns, wear jewelry, ride motorbikes and get girls through the drugs trade, and you want to attract him into education, having a compulsory curriculum doesn’t really make sense.

He’s also right in identifying that the reason education fails to reinvent itself is that it focuses on formal solutions that will sustain the existing institutions and establishment:find a way to do what we today better. The problem with this, of course, is that is simply doesn’t scale:

Almost all our effort goes in this box, sustaining innovation in formal settings, getting a better version of the essentially Bismarckian school system that developed in the 19th century. And as I said, the trouble with this is that, in the developing world there just aren’t teachers to make this model work. You’d need millions and millions of teachers in China, India, Nigeria and the rest of developing world to meet need. And in our system, we know that simply doing more of this won’t eat into deep educational inequalities, especially in inner-cities and former industrial areas.

So that’s why we need three more kinds of innovation. We need more reinvention. And all around the world now you see more and more schools reinventing themselves


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

     -- William Ernest Henley

From time to time we all need a little inspiration.