Interview – Nikhil Goyal On What We Actually Need To Do To Transform Education

Nikhil Goyal: Author and International Speaker.

Nikhil Goyal: Author and International Speaker on Education.

17 year old author of ‘One Size Does Not Fit All: A Students Assessment Of School’, one of Forbes 30 under 30 and nominated by Diane Ravitch as ‘A future secretary of education’, Nikhil Goyal has become something of a spokesman for the millions of young people around the world who are, day by day, repressed by traditional schooling.

I caught up with Nikhil to talk about what he sees as the main problems with education, and how we can go about fixing them. Here’s how our thirty minute skype call went:

Nikhil has already been outspoken in his criticism of standardized tests, rote learning, authoritarian schooling and other, literally, ‘old school’ methods. So I tried to focus more on the solutions to problems rather than the problems themselves, though we did touch on them at the beginning out of our necessity.


“Standardized Testing is wrong; it’s absolutely ludicrous on so many levels. Standardized tests lead to standardized children. We need to measure performance not by standardized tests but by projects, portfolios, blog posts and things you’ve started.”

“Friedrich Kelly, the guy who founded multiple choice tests later renounced them.”


Nikhil’s stance on standardized Testing reminded me of this cartoon.

He went on –

“This model of education is ancient. The more time a person spends in school, the more their passion and curiosity slowly gets extinguished. And there’s all this data that supports it.”

“We need to be asking how we retain those childlike traits of curiosity, wonder and awe. Because those are the traits of innovators and people who are going to do great things in the world.”


“We certainly need to change what we learn and how we’re learning it. We need less ‘do as you’re told’, teacher focused learning and more of an anti-disciplinary, hands on style of learning.”

So what would Nikhil’s ideal school look like? And what’s an average day going to be like for its students?

“It’s going to be personalized; classrooms today look very much like prisons.”

He went on to advocate that class rooms be redesigned in the image of “sleek and collaborative” workplaces at creative companies like Apple and Google .

As for what an ordinary day would look like in such a school –

“There isn’t ever going to be a normal day”, says Nikhil. Not a bad answer.

So how is the change going to come? From within educational institutions, from a change in legislation, or by replacing the old system with new ones?

What Would Nikhil Do?

Just as much as the current education system focuses on ‘one right answer’ at the expense of creativity, says Nikhil, there is no one right answer to solve it.

He lists a number of routes to achieving tangible change:

“We need to pressure law men and women to change legislation, have a more unified front of parents teachers and students, boycott standardized tests, abolish tests and grades”

“We have to make sure the workplace is really tailored to every student.”

So in summary, what, in his own words, would Nikhil change?

“Well I would start off, like I said, by redesigning the classroom. Secondly, I would bring the entire community into education – universities, museums businesses, farms, apprenticeships etc. Thirdly I would abolish grades, subjects, age divisions and standardized testing and put the focus on learning by doing and project based learning and measure kids by their portfolio.”

By doing away with age divisions “Older kids can mentor younger kids… The teacher becomes a collaborator. For example at Bright works school in San Francisco teachers act as and are called ‘collaborators’.”

So how do we fund this learning revolution?

“America spends 20-50 billion dollars on standardized testing per year. If we divert funds from standardized tests, textbooks and test prep material to project based learning, resources on the internet and getting communities involved with learning – that doesn’t cost a lot. Cost is not an issue, we just have to be wiser with our budget.”

Nikhil is currently working on launching a non-profit organization called ‘Learning Revolution’, he plans to rally students to boycott standardized tests and protest against the repressive education they are being subjected to.

Of the young people Goyal expects to spearhead this movement he said “We’re not going to be silenced, we have a voice now. We have social media and so many platforms to engage with.”

In Conclusion:

Nikhil is an inspirational young person and while there are few seventeen year olds who have published books on their education system, he is not unique in his ability to articulate criticisms of it and seek improvements.

Before Christmas I spoke to a diverse group of High School (or ‘Secondary School’ as we call it here in Ireland) students on their experience of school. Across the board they said they had never been asked for their opinion on school or invited to imagine their own ideal learning experience. The younger kids spoke of being frightened to ask questions lest they be made fun of by their teacher for not knowing something, and everyone wished that the learning was more practical, less restricted to the classroom bubble and more involved with their local community. I could go on and on but really those conversations deserve a post of their own. The point is that a random sampling of Irish students voiced many of the same complaints that Nikhil has and from my own personal experience I would say that there is a vast segment of the student population dissatisfied with their own current experience.

This. Must. Change.

This has to change.

The question is, how do we give these students a voice and empower them to re-imagine their paths to personal fulfillment?

Right now I’m considering the possibility of setting up a social networking platform for students and educators to collaborate on in order to redesign schools and learning experiences for the benefit of all concerned.

What do you guys think? Please let me know in the comments, and share this along if you found it useful, thank you.


  1. we are caught between a ‘pragmatics’ education system , and a so called digital revolution. Most of education is built on the back of technological Industry and what it demands in skilled workers informs the educational system and pays for it also. Maybe these days you can , in Ireland add – pharmaceutical, IT , sciences. All young people should have some all round base to what they are exposed to – there is so much you cannot know you are ‘good at ‘ – without first being exposed to learning , getting tasters . Who knows the myriad of occupations to be had with a good grasp of biology or geography? Who would associate the range of degrees and specializations that are available from those two subjects at Third Level? It is not marketed well enough as it is, and not contextualised efficiently enough to excite young people or engender confidence and curiosity . I think Education is about creating curiosity in young minds, teaching them how to ask questions without being afraid of looking stupid and allowing them to say – Why : I don’t understand yet. Finding new methods and new ways to discourse in a classroom setting could help. Round table class structures improved a UK classrooms total understanding of a particularly difficult text in one instance , along with use of the Internet for supportive literature. – and I MUST look up the school as it featured in an Observer weekend as having a headmaster with a ground-breaking new approach to supportive learning!

    1. Hey Anna! Thanks for the comment. I agree with you on most of what you’re saying there. I don’t think young people are afraid to ask ‘why?’ when they don’t understand something. Not until we teach them to be afraid, and unfortunately that’s what’s happening in schools right now, there’s a rhetoric of valuing questioning things, creativity, critical thinking and open minds etc, but in practice all these things get you in a lot of trouble in our schools. That’s no accident, one of school’s main jobs is to produce obedient and reliable cogs in a machine; whether or not that machine is good for them or their community.

  2. My high school’s administration has recently decided to enforce a new “standardized grading system”, basically meaning that our grades for each subject are now based wholly on final test results. Even before this change I had ideas and opinions along the same lines as Goyal on our education system. My community’s schools especially are sinking deeper and deeper into the problems Nikhil talked of, while its students are experiencing a severe lack of creativity, passion, and curiosity.

    I’m writing an article for my school’s newspaper on the standardized grading systems, and this interview gave me some new ideas! Thanks!

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