Here is a TED Talk released today by Charles Leadbeater on the topic of education in developing countries. He argues that the western model of education just doesn’t fit the challenges of everyday life in many of these countries. Leadbeater provides examples of novel approaches to education around the world and considers how they might be shared with the other thousands/millions of children and adults seeking education. He argues for a “Chinese Restaurant” approach to diffusion over a McDonald’s…in other words schools share similar principles but don’t look the same.
There are Chinese restaurants everywhere, but there is no Chinese restaurant chain. Yet, everyone knows what is a Chinese restaurant. They know what to expect, even though it’ll be subtly different and the colors will be different and the name will be different. You know a Chinese restaurant when you see it. These people work with the Chinese restaurant model. Same principles, different applications and different settings. Not the McDonald’s model. The McDonald’s model scales. The Chinese restaurant model spreads.
Learning must also somehow attract – “to pull not push” its participants. It must be designed in ways that the content will make a practical difference to their lives. Leadbeater argued this will require breaking from our 19th century models of education. He argues that we need transformative innovation – disruptive ideas that are located outside of formal settings. They are found in social networks, families and communities. He cites the Harlem Children Zone as an example.
It made me think about the education system in which I am embedded :)
It’s recognizably 19th century in its roots. And of course it’s a huge achievement. And of course it will bring great things. It will bring skills and learning and reading. But it will also lay waste to imagination. It will lay waste to appetite. It will lay waste to social confidence. It will stratify society as much as it liberates it. And we are bequeathing to the developing world schools systems that they will now spend a century trying to reform. That is why we need really radical thinking, and why radical thinking is now more possible and more needed than ever in how we learn.