In the 2016 Jeddah Economic Forum, Dr. Mounira Jamjoom, Co-Founder and CEO of Emkan Education, talked about being part of a discussion on Education in Saudi Arabi's National Transformation Program. The topic was "Our Education system is broken and we need to fix it" and the conversation included issues such as: "we have problems at the student level; we have problem at the teacher level; that professional development is not effective; we have a list of problems at the school level; there is no school autonomy; school size is small; and we have a problem at the system level; and we still don't know where we want to be in 2020".
What we need is not an evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else.
Dr. Jamjoom began her talk with a question that her son, Abdullah, got in his class: "How can grade one save the world?". A disruptive question that teachers should ask students in the 21st century to spark their creativity from a young age, and instill in them the believe that they can be the leaders of tomorrow. Similar to how John Hunter created the World Peace game to challenge his students to achieve world peace against all odds. In her book about Saudi education, خواطر جريئة عن التعليم السعودي, Dr. Jamjoom reflected on the mundane questions students are asked in history classes in Saudi Arabia, from when did this happen to where did this happen?, and how they are memorized then forgotten by the end of the year, and suggested that the study of history can be tackled from a philosophical perspective that can beautifully ignite the students' creative thought for years if we instead ask disruptive questions such as:
ما هو التاريخ؟ أهو قصة البشرية؟ أم وجه واحد من قصة البشرية؟ كيف نحلل التاريخ بموضوعية لنتأكد من مصداقيته؟ ما الفرق بين البطولة و الشهرة في التاريخ و من هو البطل حقاً؟ هل تاريخ أمتنا المسلمة تاريخ تطور أم تراجع؟
So how do we effectively disrupt the Education System? Dr. Jamjoom added that the way to disrupt education is by working at the school level and local level, and the perfect partners to work with are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who can provide services such as tutoring, teacher training, test preparation, and education technology. She talked about the intersection of education and technology that is founded in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (such as Coursera, Edx, Udemy, Udacity, Rwaq). She also talked about Tynker, which is disrupting education at the student level by developing programming curriculum for children, and Teachers pay Teachers, which is disrupting education at the teacher level by creating an e-commerce platform where teachers share their content (Emkan Education created something similar with Aaanaab (أعناب)), and Panorama Education, which is disrupting education at the system level by analyzing school data.
Dr. Jamjoom said that in order to engage and support Saudi SMEs, we need trust in the power of "small, lean, and different", because small institutions can be more effective than big institutions. We need to design transparent and supportive legislation in dialogue with SMEs in the procurement process, and we need to track data, which will reveal the problems in education. Also, we need to identify creative financial capital for education, not just government, but grant funding and venture capital funding.
We are talking about the knowledge economy, the sharing economy. We don’t have time to think of the old ways and do things the old ways we used to do it.
In the same forum, Mr. Peje Emilsson, Founder and Chairman of KED - Kunskapsskolan education spoke about talking to a Harvard professor who is attempting to disrupt the current failing education system through the use of technology. The Harvard Professor he was talking about is Eric Mazur, who created the Peer Instruction teaching method. I met Eric Mazur when I was a student at the University of Edinburgh when he gave his lecture "Confessions of a converted lecturer". Even though I was a straight A student in school, after listening to his lecture, I was astonished as I reflected on how I went through my entire education in a backward, outdated, inefficient educational system where a student is blamed for his/her inability to keep up with a boring, fast talking teacher throwing information at us to write in a notebook, memorize, then regurgitate the same information in a testing system that kills innovation and creativity, while we have the technology to create a system that can spark the creation of creative thoughts and innovative ideas.
Harvard magazine described the epiphany of the Professor Mazur as: The epiphany came via an article in the American Journal of Physics by Arizona State professor David Hestenes. He had devised a very simple test, couched in everyday language, to check students’ understanding of one of the most fundamental concepts of physics—force—and had administered it to thousands of undergraduates in the southwestern United States. Astonishingly, the test showed that their introductory courses had taught them “next to nothing,” says Mazur: “After a semester of physics, they still held the same misconceptions as they had at the beginning of the term.
Mazure stated that:
The students did well on textbook-style problems...They had a bag of tricks, formulas to apply. But that was solving problems by rote. They floundered on the simple word problems, which demanded a real understanding of the concepts behind the formulas.
This is why the education system is obsolete. It does not create leaders fit to lead the 21st century, because they know a lot about how to memorize information and sound smart, but they do not have the creativity and innovation to solve real world problems. They issue reports, graphs, and info-graphics filled with analytics about the need to solve youth unemployment, but have little clue about implementing viable policies that prepares youth for work in order to actually solve unemployment.
Mazur's Peer Instruction teaching method can now be found in a new disruptive start up called 42, a univeristy with no teachers that trains students in coding and software development by getting them to help each other and mark one another's work. It was founded by French billionaire Xavier Niel, who went through the outdated education system and decided to disrupt it, just like like Peter Thiel who created a fellowship that gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom, which supported the likes of 19 year old Jihad Kawas, the Lebanese entrepreneur who founded Saily, and who gave a TED talk titled "Why School Is Not Ready For Us" about how school was irrelevant to what he wanted to do. There is also MIT's dean for graduate education, Christine Ortiz, who decided to leave her post to create a new university with no majors, no lectures, and no classrooms. We see a trend here in how many innovators and educators are realizing that the current education system is failing to create minds fit for the new digital age.
In Finland, they decided to abandon teaching history, geography, and economics as a separate subject, and instead integrate them all within a topic which makes learning more exciting, and more importantly beneficial in the long term. For example, students will learn about the the topic World War II (WWII), then will learn about the geography of the war, it economics, math, and science. As a result, the student will come out with a full understanding of what happened in that period in all aspects. This will form an integrated thinking model in the student's that takes into account the context of various variable when thinking about any subject. This is the foundation of critical thinking. A student will also understand how various intertwining ideas evolved through history to form our contemporary realities. For example, an understating of how the weapons industry in WWII was one of the main reason that got the United States out of the great depression, because war has its own economy, and many corporations thrive during war. Also, because men were at war, most of the employees that were working in factories were women, which led to the rise of independent working women who took care of themselves when a man was gone. After the war, women did not want to leave work and go back to the kitchen, which in turn led to the rise of of equal rights movements and the beginning of modern feminism. Understanding the economy of WWII and its effects allows the student to have a critical thinking mechanism to apply to all wars and their effects, with an understanding of its economics, science, and culture. This can also be expanded to other disciplines like philosophy and psychology that can integrate the evolution of ideas and how they can shape and influence history. To understand how Hitler read Nietzsche to create his conclusions about race superiority; why did communism spread so fast in Europe after Karl Marx published his book and how is it related to the Cold War; and how the conflict between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek shaped modern economic thought that still effects how competing politicians draft economic policies. Dissecting the history of humanity as an evolution of integrated concepts and ideas that shaped all aspects of our modern realities is what creates a critical mind that has the ability to find contemporary solutions to today's problems. As opposed to memorizing and forgetting general facts and dates because they lack any applicable context, as Education Minister Mohammed Al-Rasheed wrote in his book مسيرتي مع الحياة about his time in school:
Like Christine Ortez is doing with a university, a Swedish education company built a class free school for children, because, as Liz Dwyer of Good Education reported: "the traditional setup of school classrooms—straight rows of desks with accompanying chairs—doesn't do much to foster creativity or collaboration"
The school design is intended to stimulate children's curiosity and creativity and offer them opportunities for both collaborative and independent time. The school does not have grades either.
All this shows a shift in how many thinkers view education, but why is the current education system failing us?
Sugata Mitra, a Professor of Educational Technology, found that if we look at present day schooling the way it is, it is quite easy to figure that that it came from about 300 years ago from the British Empire. The British Empire attempted to run the entire planet without computers and telephones, but with data handwritten on paper and travelling by ships. They did it by creating a global computer made up of people, and that computer is still with us today, it's called the bureaucratic administrative machine. In order to have the machine running, they created another machine, the schools, to produce lots and lots of people for the bureaucratic administrative machine. The two machines were identical to each other, and had three important factors in common: 1- Have good handwriting (the data is handwritten), 2- able to read, and 3- able to do multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. The people they produced had to be so identical that you can pick one from New Zealand and ship them to Canada and he/she would be instantly functional the same as anyone from any other country. The system was so efficient that it is still with us today with schools continuously producing identical people (as Malvina Reynolds sang in her song Little Boxes) for a machine that no longer exists. This is why, Sugata Mitra said:
Schools as we know them are obsolete
Sugata Mitra was teaching students in Delhi, India how to write computer programs right next to a slum. He thought how on earth are those kids in the slums ever going to learn computer programs. He made a hole in a wall of the slum right next to his office and stuck a compute inside of it just to see what would happen if he gave a compute to children who never would have one, did not know any English, or what the internet was. The children came running to the computer and started playing with it. He came 8 hours later and found the children browsing and teaching each other how to browse. He repeated the experiment 300 miles out of Delhi in a remote village, and came back after a couple of months and found kids playing on it. They told him "we want a faster processor and a better mouse". He thought: "How on earth do you know all this?" They said " you've given us a machine that works only in English, so we had to teach ourselves English in order to use it". That was first time Sugata Mitra, as teacher for 14 years, heard the words "teach ourselves" said so casually. He repeated the experiment all over India with similar results with kids teaching and learning together. This was Peer Instruction learning in action.
Sugata Mitra was fascinated by the kids' incredible ability to learn so much so fast that he wanted to see how far can this learning go. He created this absurd proposition and a ridicules hypotheses:
Can Tamil-Speaking Children in a South Indian village learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street side computer?
He left the computer for a couple of months in a village in South India, came back and gave them a test, they got a zero, but one kid said "aside from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven't understood anything else". He tested them again a couple of more months, they got 30%. In more months, the scores jumped to 50%. This made Mitra think "could it be that we don't need to go to school at all?". Mitra had another brilliant conclusion after the experiments, he found that encouragement and fun (which is what happens when kids teach each other) is when learning happens. He realized that the students' brain shuts down the pre-frontal cortex (the part that learns) under threats like punishment and examination. So we take our children, we make them shut their brains down, then we say "preform!". He found that "it's not about making learning happen, it's about letting it happen - the teacher sets the process in motion, then stands back in awe and watches learning as it happens "
Creative, Adaptive, Personalized, and Addictive Education
Dr. Jamjoom said that we need "creative, adaptive, personalized, and addictive education". I kept thinking of this phrase over and over, and wondered how many geniuses and problems solvers we would have produced in Saudi if our kids were just as engaged in Education as they are while playing PlayStation or watching a football match. I reminisced on the fact that a lot of my actual education happened in the west with teachers who were artists in captivating my mind, and by being in a system that is so dedicated to knowledge that it produces documentaries and education material that competes with Hollywood blockbusters in how good it is. As a result, I found myself knowing more about the history of Arabs simply because there were a lot of engaging material on the subject and some of the best documentaries on the history of Islam were produced by PBS in the U.S. and BBC in the U.K., and that is when I started learning about my history.
In the the brilliant movie, Inside Out, Disney introduced emotional theory to children by appropriating the ideas of Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions. They created charterers called Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgusts, and Anger and showed how they are working inside the mind of the 11 year old Riley as she navigates moving to a new city, new school, and live through the new experiences the comes with that. The movie shows how each day is a mix of these 5 colored emotions, and by the end of the day, when Riley goes to sleep, all these emotions go through a tube into a library called long term memory. Sometimes there are experiences so strong and formative that they create a core memory and become the bases of Riley's personality, which is shown in the movie as a collection of theme parks from Imagination Land, and Dream Production, to Abstract Thought, and Subconscious Jail. Joy and Sadness got lost at one point and went through these them parks (Riley's personality). After the journey with Sadness, Joy realized that Sadness is not only useful, but essential, maybe more essential than she is to Riely's development and overall happiness. This is a message to children to expect, accept, and embrace sadness, because it is essential to live a life that allows for Joy to arise. All this above is communicated to a child in such a brilliant artistic form. In her book, Dr. Jamjoom talked about the importance of children's literature, and that it is literature أدب not stories قصص, and how writing children's literature requires creative thought and concerned effort, it requires a brilliant writer that does not dumb himself/herself down to speak to a child's mind but rise up to meet the child's creative state:
نحن لا ننحدر الى عقلية الطفل عندما نكتب كتاب أطفال بل نحن نتقمص حالة فكرية مبدعة
Movies, TV shows, and video games get the audience's attention because their creators appeal to the audience's emotions, whether anger in popular action movies or the need for connection and love in romantic ones. An excellent educator can do the same by appealing to the student's innate curiosity and sense of wonder, because kids want to know, they want to explore, they want to create, but that curiosity is killed when tests, grades, and punishment is introduced in a way that shuts down the child's brain off, and makes him/her want to escape to places that appeals to their imagination.
Picasso have said that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”, and in his book, Creative Schools, Ken Robinson wrote that "human beings are highly curious learning organisms. From the moment they are born they have a veracious appetite for learning. That appetite start to dull as they go through school. Many highly talented, brilliant people think they are not, because the thing they were good at in school was not valued or was actually stigmatized." In a way, we are educated out of our creativity and artistry.
Neil Degrasse Tyson, an Astrophysicist, took what could have been the most boring subject in high-school or college, Physics, and brought a show, Cosmos, that became one of the highest rated TV shows on FOX and on Netflix . Before Neil Degrasse Tyson, Cosmos was presented by Carl Sagan, who talked about physics with such passion and elegance that reading his books feels like reading a poetry book about the universe, as when he wrote about a picture of earth as a tiny dot in a big universe:
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam"
This has inspired one of my college professors to create a class called Physics for Poets that became one of the most popular classes in our university and was taken by students who absolutely hated physics in high school.
Steve jobs, Bill gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerbeg, even Lady GaGa, all tell kids to do what they love, what they're passionate about. However, the education system does not allow children to explore different passions, and society does not help either as they all submit to a gigantic marketing industry that focuses on turning a kid into an efficient consumer who constantly aims at immediate gratification by buying the newest gizmos and toys. The kid watches cartoons, plays games on their iPad, then grows up to discover PlayStation and Xbox. And since the majority of kids are doing the same thing, it encourages the preponderance of these habits - so if a kid says I like to read books or I am interested in French literature, then that makes him/her the ultimate weirdo - Now, of course, we all know that weirdos, misfits, and crazy ones are the ones who change the world, but we forget that a lot of potential Steve Jobs and Einsteins have their passions killed as they slowly surrender to conformity and end up finding their place in the pack. A good education system can make THE difference between a generation of readers and intellectuals with a purpose to advance humanity, or a generation of chilling and hanging out at the mall because life is boring.
Success in life requires skills like patience, grit, perseverance, and discipline, but our kids are taken by getting things instantly, on demand, and with little work. And then we wonder why companies don't want to hire Saudis after they completed 4 years in the "great colleges" of the United States and return to supposedly take over the world. It is because skills that are needed in this economy are cultivated through years of concerned and dedicated education in schools, and 4 years in college will not fix the problem.
Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, wrote that:
We tend to think of intelligence as a single dimension. It starts with IQ measurement, which starts with a simple low IQ in a rat or mouse, and maybe there's more in a chimpanzee, and then there's more in a stupid person, and more in average person, and then a genius. That's completely wrong. That's not what intelligence is. It's much more like a symphony of different notes, and each of these notes is played on a different instrument of cognition. There are many types of intelligences in our own minds. We have deductive reasoning, we have emotional intelligence, we have spatial intelligence; we have maybe 100 different types that are all grouped together, and they vary in different strengths with different people.
Part of an excellent education is to teach students how to learn, and to understand the best methods that work for each student. Some students are Visual Learners, others are Auditory Learners, or Reading/Writing Learners, or Kinesthetic Learners. We need to find different ways to equip students with the best skills and methods to tackle the academic obstacles she/her is facing by understanding their learning process better, and having a profile on each students that lists all the aspects will allow us to help them in various ways by creating the best environment for their learning experience. Now, doing this is expensive and requires a lot of hard work, which is why we need to upgrade the education industry to be a place where the smartest most ambitious members of our society go, to make it a sector that parents are proud for their sons and daughters to choose, not a sector for الي يتخرج بمعدل ضعيف so the only choice for him/her is education, because it is, you know, easy and does not require a lot of work.
Schools must have mane many MANY programs that allow kids to explore everything and cultivate interests and passions in many aspects of the human experience until they find an idea and a passion that they fall in love with. The school should have resources and counselors dedicated to helping the student peruse this passion and then open to her/him all the best possibilities and best methods for this passion to be realized to its full potential. If not this, then what are schools for?! This is just the minimum. There are so many ideas that can be implemented to produces a generation after generation of intellectuals and pioneers who can transform societies and economies. Saudi Arabia's 2017 budget states that "SAR 200 billion has been allocated for the public education, higher education and training." This is more than enough to do all the above. The problem is not lack of money, it's inefficiency, lack of motivation, and intellectual laziness, especially when considering that our teachers are some of the lowest paid employees and the least respected professions, while in Finland and Germany a teacher is considered to be like a lawyer or doctor, and is paid accordingly.
Having a good inspiring teacher that cares can be life changing. If the teacher is the person who helps us raise a generation after generation of young minds, then we must invest heavily in this person - we must equip this person with incredible skills to pass to our children, and I am not talking about just practical education skills, but life skills, such as empathy, ability to connect with others, charisma, and inspiring leadership. In her book, Dr. Jamjoom talked about the importance of the hidden curriculum in schools. I find the hidden curriculum to be the most important curriculum, because it includes the values and behaviors that are implicitly instilled in the child without being expressly included in the "official curriculum". When the teacher is late, or lazy, or hits a child, or insults him in front of the entire class, it is this what creates an insecure child who doubts himself and never dares to dream big, even if the school's motto is نحن نصنع أبطال الغد. The education system is supposed to liberate the students' minds and enlighten their imagination, not to kill their spirit and eliminate their individuality, and the difference between cultivating confident personalities and broken spirits can be found in the hidden curriculum . The hidden curriculum in Saudi Arabia is something that must be heavily researched, explored, and fixed, (by competent Saudi researchers who understand Saudi culture and society, not British consultants "الخبير الأجنبي"), because even if the parents are working hard to raise a child well and provide him/her with all the available opportunities, a bad hidden curriculum at school can ruin all the good work a good parent is doing at home.
The education technology start-ups below reached a Billion dollar valuation, which shows a hunger for something new to disrupt education.
I do not know what is it yet that will disrupt and take education to the next level, but it will be education 3.0. Education 2.0 was MOOCS and online courses, but, to be honest, they just took boring content from the class and put it online. Now, of course, some classes are interesting, but they are not creative, adaptive, personalized, and addictive, which is why less than 10% of students even complete MOOCs, Most people don't get excited about new classes on MOOCS like they get excited about the season premier of their favorite TV shows, and they don't binge on classes like they binge on Netflix.
I am not saying that education should be entertainment that requires no effort, challenge, or complexity. In fact, students love the challenge and complexity when they have an excellent introduction to a subject. For example: a video game gives you an easy, medium, and difficult option. After playing the game for a while, a lot of kids end up choosing the difficult option in search of a challenge, and play الحلقة الأخيرة و الوحش الأخير for hours and hours, and the character dies, then they try again and again for hours with non-stop commitment, and then finally proudly announce قتلت الوحش الاخير وخلصت اللعبة (growth mindset). So, why don't they do the same with a math problem, and simply give up and say I am at bad at math (fixed mindset). Well, the first stage of a video game is easy and it allows you to learn all basics very well, and if you make a mistake, the character dies and you repeat the same first stage again and again على راحتك without anybody shouting at you or telling you that you are غبي و ما تفهم for not finishing the first stage, so you keep going, at your base, till you finish the first stage. When you get to the second stage, you are ready, prepared, and and have all the skills you need for the second stage. In schools however, a D (مقبول) is a passing grade, so a D student gets to next level without being prepared for it, and that is the beginning of the eventual disaster as he continue to move up one grade after another without being ready for the next one up. Salman khan compared this to a construction company telling you that we built your house on a D grade foundation and it is not that solid, but we will build your entire house on it anyways.
Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of SpaceX; co-founder and CEO of Tesla Inc.; co-chairman of OpenAI; founder and CEO of Neuralink; previously co-founder and chairman of SolarCity; co-founder of Zip2; co-founder of PayPal, and recently founder of The Boring Company, have said that education is basically downloading data and algorithms into your brain, and conventional education is really bad at doing it - it should not be a huge chore, and the more we gamify the process of learning and make it entertaining, the better the outcome.
So he created a school for his kids
Reed Hasting, founder of Netflex is championing a Netflex like math teaching program, DreamBox Learning, where algorithms decide which lessons students see. It uses artificial intelligence to adapt math lessons to a student. When students complete a math lesson they earn point which they can use to unlock virtual rewards (just like a video game). The New York Times reported that some students loved DraemBox so much that they kept asking their parents to let them play during trips to the Supermarket, and other kids were waking up at 5:30 am asking their parents to play the game.
The beginning of education 3.0 can also be found in MasterClass where Helen Mirren teaches you acting, Serena Williams teaches you Tennis, and Aaron Sorkin teaches you Screenwriting. I am very excited to start taking any of these courses this weekend, even though I do not know anything about the above subjects, nor was I particularly interested in them before, but the content is so engaging, the delivery is so outstanding, and the production is so well done, that any subject becomes interesting. The key here is that any subject becomes interesting. The secret sauce is not just having celebrities who are the best in their game, but it's the focus on engagement, captivating attention, and producing content that is creative, adaptive, personalized, and addictive.
Education must evolve and adapt to compete with recent technologies and modern human behavior in order to capture the attention of students. There are many consultants to tech companies, like Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, who consult companies on how to create products that become an essential habit of the user. This is the research that goes behind why we check Insta and Snap every minute. These consultants study and review the latest studies in the science of the brain, cognitive development, and social behavior to produce the most engaging products. It is so important for tech companies to understand human behavior that Snapchat hired a sociologist, Nathan Jurgenson, who coined the term "digital dualism", to help Snapchat by understating how humans behave differently in the digital world, and leveraging that in future product design , as Evan Spiegel CEO of Snapchat said here. So shouldn't educators do the same to create an education system that competes with Snapchat and Instagram?
There is a scientific revolution happening in understanding the brain and how it functions. This means that teachers should get training and certification in the latest methods of how the brain acquires information based on the latest developments in neuroscience.The technologies and methods that aims at creating an addicted consumer can be transferred to teachers to educate teens who find pleasure and joy in learning. However, schools are not focused on training their teachers like tech companies are focused on training their employees.
There is so much room for innovation and creativity in education, and the sky is the limit. The technology is here, the resources are accessible, all you need is love and dedication for Education, and a vision can be set up and achieved.
Chinese brains are just as good as Americans. All of our brains are just as good as theirs… If we are a good team and know what we want to do, one of us can defeat ten of them. We can beat government agencies and big famous companies because of our innovative spirit.
We believe that Saudi brains are as good as American, Chinese, German, and any brain in the world. If we put our hands together to be a team we can defeat global giants with our believe and determination to build to a great innovative society. The Middle East is a region that is craving for something to disrupt education, and parents are hoping for something that will transform their kids from cartoon watching, Insta checking robots to great minds with big dreams and ideas. Once a start-up does it right, people will turn 180 on all the old out-dated institutions that failed them. If you have an idea, contact us, we'd love to work with you!