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The Invisible Conversation on Education

“Relentless conversations for relentless innovators” is the name of the meeting/event that gathers educational innovators from Latin America and the Caribbean. The get-together is hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank through its initiative GRADUATE XXI and this edition had the collaboration of Reach Capital.

The third edition of this gathering was held on June 23rd in San Francisco, where 50 innovators from the Latin-American region shared ideas and concepts with different Silicon Valley based organizations. The goal of this conversation? To promote a dialogue on the big scale educational change.The outcome?A blast of ideas, experiences, visions and dilemmas about the future of education.

The dialogue amongst the participants gave a peek inside a new educational terrain in the making. Ideas were shared by the innovation “practitioners” who are experimenting with startups in Latin America and the Caribbean, such as Acamica, Yogome, Edufocal, Educatina, Kuepa, Descomplica, VocêAprende Agora, Tutor Mundi, Kubus, Platzi, Neardpod, Lab4U, among others. They talked about their experiences, business models, their dreams on education and the expansion devices to accomplish such dreams. Into the conversation mix entered participants that had built innovative schools from the ground up (Innova Schools, Colegio Monserrat, the Eduinvest Group), the region’s think tanks (Todos Pela Educação, CIPPEC), Silicon Valley incubators and accelerators (Reach, Co.Lab, Learning Innovation Hub), organizations focused on aiding educational innovations, (Learning One to One, eLearn Collaborative, Omidyar Network), as well as educational initiatives and enterprises (such as Pearson o Cengage), specialists, government representatives and many more.

It was a truly a morning filled with inspiring rays hovering in the not so distant future of education. Four core ideas can summarize a sparse but full of convergences panorama:

(1) Traditional education is about to reach its breaking point.

The traditional education model, a homogeneous and detached teaching series for the vast majority of educators and students is about to profoundly change. Where? The greatest consensus indicates that is directed towards the personalization of learning, both because technology will help teachers focus more on each student and for the same adaptive platforms that encourage individual learning digitally.

One of the guests said that the turning point is to get students to commit to their own learning process on a massive scale. “Every change made will have to come through the idea on how to motivate students.” Gamification experiences seem to emerge in the center of this scene.

(2) Change will not come from only one place and is likely to emerge from the bottom up in unexpected ways.

How will this change arrive? All kinds of ideas and scenarios developed during the dialogue. The greatest consensus indicates that there will not be a large, centralized actor (either a country or a mega-company) but a multiplicity of actors and viral, ever-changing and flexible processes. They will be platforms, applications, new school networks, changes in regulations, technological inventions, new pedagogies, and a mixture of all.

Several guests pointed out that the changes will be powered from the bottom up, in an unexpected flow. This could be done by givinga centered-focus on students in their learning, for example through crowdlearning platforms that will make them demand more and more spaces to create knowledge. The creation of collaborative digital networks for teachers will enable them to boost large-scale changes that they could be demanding or leading.

For example, the US initiative “Go Open Initiative” aims for teachers to create educational content, so the process can be organic, integrated into a system that encourages the curatorship of peers and experts as well as the adaptation of practices allowing for positive results expand. This organic and adaptive process can enable the creation of a systemic viral innovation process.

(3) We are going through a translation of educational content to new formats and meanings.

Many of the guests belong to an invisible conversation: they are the translators of educational content into renewed and even revolutionaryformats. Businesses, governments and startups are taking trips to another educational world, going against the traditional flattening of the contents, typified in rituals and boring series. This forward thinking is a great translation process: video games, adaptive platforms, creation of experiences, narratives, custom sequences.

Examples such as Yogome, knowledge superheroes emerged, as well as Lab4U, which is using cell phone devices as a scientific apparatus. The goal of this great transformation is to create independent subjects of knowledge and social transformers. “What kind of educational content is needed to transform ourselves and transform a community?” Asked Erika Twani, explaining the innovative experience of One to One Learning, which creates flexible content, tailored to each student.

(4) The meaning of education is veering towards practical and flexible skills.

This is regarding not only modifying the how but especially the what and the why. Although it’s true that both dimensions are connected: when a student learns passionately is also possible for them to develop diverse and powerful capabilities. But the direction that the innovations can take is as or more important than the innovations themselves.

For example, it’s still a paradox how many technologic innovations are based on a business model that accompanies the preparation for entrance exams to college countries. Models of educational videos or video games such as EduFocal, Descomplica are possible thanks to the large traditional content-based exams.

It became clear during the conversation that this too is changing. Examples like Platzi or Acamica are modelplatformsdeveloped directly to create and design skills aligned with the flexible labor market of the future/present. Non-cognitive skills appear on the horizon in an increasingly imperious way: learning to learn, social-emotional development, communication skills and intercultural interaction, resilience and the problem solving ability, teamwork, among many other capabilities were mentioned by the participants.

Most of these trends and examples of them can also be found in the recent document GRADUATE XXI published “Map of the future: 50 educational innovations in Latin America.”

This conversation is still an invisible movement for most education systems. But it will not remain so for long. The next few years are coming faster than we think. The major educational changes are not so far away. Will they take the education system by assault? Will they come from the outside? Will they be controlled by commercial interests, the glare of innovation, thestate or by the eternal dreams of educators who want to see their students walking into a new world with passion, ethics and autonomy?


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