tedactive 2013

by James Yeats Smith, filed from TEDActive 2013, Palm Springs. Tuesday, 26 February

Today was the official start of the TED 2013 conference in Long Beach, California that will see more than 72 speakers share their ideas over the next four days.

The campus was twitching with anticipation as over 700 Tedsters in Palm Springs descended on the theatre for the live simulcast and an immersive day of ideas, hypotheses and discussion. There were several impressive presentations ranging from neuroscience to robotics, to the discovery of giant squids, but the recurring theme across all three sessions was undoubtedly the need to redefine education and reinvent the way teachers teach and learners learn.

tedactive 2013

Academic innovation took center stage in the final session of the day as the revered educationalist and TED super star, Sir Ken Robinson introduced the one million Dollar TEDPrize winner to a rapturous applause from both TED audiences in Long Beach and Palm Springs.

Professor Sugata Mitra, an educational technologist from New Delhi, stepped up and instantly jolted everyone out of their contemplative stupor (15 back to back talks have a way of sucking you deep into your own theoretical vortex) by posing the question; ‘In an age where anything you want to know is a search term away, has knowing become obsolete?’

His hypothesis describes the future of learning as the product of educational self-organization: teachers merely offer a question and then step back and allow the learning to happen organically, championing a curriculum of big questions not a syllabus of facts and formulas. The research that earned him the prize was the product of 15 years of remarkable experiments in the slums of India that culminated in an initiative named SOLE, or Student Owned Learner Engagement. By placing computers in poor areas and leaving the children to their own devices, he proved that Tamil speaking 12 year-olds could teach themselves the fundamental biotechnology of DNA replication, in English, from a street side computer, in six months.

Prof Mitra’s mandate is to build a school in the cloud that not only disrupts the way we’ve been schooled for the last 300 years, but also makes quality education accessible to children from low income families that could otherwise never afford schooling as we know it today. You can read more about his initiative on the TED site.

It’s safe to say the entire conference was unanimous in their endorsement of the winning candidate and the TED community immediately reached out to Prof Mitra with tremendous zeal, making services and resources available to him and his organization.

A paradigm shift in education, indeed. I hope to have a few discussions later this evening on how this can be implemented back home in South Africa and what the most effective way would be to support and implement it.

Time to head out to an Old Town Square Fiesta before returning to La Quinta for something a little lighter; a TEDActive pillow fight, then I’ll hit the sack.

Find what you love and let it kill you. JYS.

James Yeats Smith

– For more stories for TEDActive 2013 be sure to check back tomorrow

– James Yeats Smith is an award winning Creative Director and writer focused on the convergence of marketing, entertainment and technology. He is based between New York, Cape Town & Johannesburg.

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