Learning Revolution

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.

Kevilina and Jaime are doing important work here. There are more than enough people and organizations around to galvanize a genuine worldwide revolution in school and education. But there is and always has been a disparity between us. Now though we have the tools to connect with each other. IncitEd will give us the opportunity to provide and access financial support to and from education models we believe in, and finally create some alternatives and competition in what has for too long been a stagnant educational marketplace. We will also have the means to scale other organizations models around the world e.g. if you wanted to open your own Sudbury school or Summerhill. Please have a look at the IncitEd website and if you can, donate a little. We have an opportunity to more effectively change people’s lives, and we shouldn’t waste it.

Cooperative Catalyst

My friend Alan Burnce is an experienced high school English teacher, having taught in inner New York City and rural Oregon for nearly a decade. Incidentally, he’s a graduate of Stanford and of Harvard’s school of education. In other words, he’s a well educated, experienced teacher, and he’s passionate about mentoring students. He’s the kind of  educator all young people should have the opportunity to work with.

Last spring, Alan was laid off due to budget cuts. But he hasn’t given up the work he’s been doing with students. He learned of an innovative education model in Massachusetts called North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens and decided to replicate that model, has students ready to join, and is currently seeking funding.

A nonprofit called P:ear “builds positive relationships with homeless and transitional youth through education, art, and recreation.” For eleven years, they have worked respectfully to rebuild the whole person…

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The Difference Between Learning And Education – Inspired By Sudbury Valley School.

Education? There’s no such thing.

It’s a pleasant synonym for the indoctrination of children towards our own ends. Education is what happens when we raise kids because we want things from them. Learning is what happens when we raise kids because we want to give them something – the world.

How do we do that? What does it look like? What is our job if we want to give children the world, rather than use them for it? It’s very simple.

To give children the world, you love them, and protect them, no matter what, and you let them find their own way. Love them. Protect them. Listen to them. Empower them.

As I said, education is what happens when we want something from children – in the instance of standardized education, obedience and productivity at monotonous tasks. We give them an education so they can give us what we want. Education has not been a consistent mainstay of human progress; it has flitted in and out of cultures in different forms, as required. For nearly a hundred years the current form of education has been in place, and in a lot of ways, for much of that time; it has served us well. But it is no longer needed.

Standardized education no longer serves us as anything more than a free babysitting service, and an indoctrination into an obedient consumer culture that is no longer useful for anything other than propagating itself.

Learning on the other hand, has always existed and been pivotal to the survival and progress of the human race. Learning is not optional or institutional, and it will take place in any environment, from the bleakest to the brightest, no matter what. For example, in many of our schools now, in spite of the oppressive atmosphere, students manage to learn that their opinions and interests are not valued, that they are subordinate to their teachers, that they must sit down, shut up and do as their told, or suffer ridicule and punishment. These are just a few of the lessons that are compulsory in our backward curriculums. In a moment you will have the option of watching a video demonstrating a school that fosters learning, with no ‘education’ necessary to the process.

Sudbury Valley School inspired this post by showing me very plainly what learning is, and how to guarantee it will happen. Learning is guaranteed to happen when we love our children so that they learn to love, listen to them so that they learn to express, protect them so that they can safely explore until they’re old enough to protect themselves, and empower them with the things they need to pursue that exploration.

It can be difficult to do all this because many of us charged with cultivating such an environment have not yet learned to love, have not yet learned to listen, we have never felt safe enough, or empowered enough, to explore, and so we think it unsafe to do so. In these things, many of us must learn alongside these children we are entrusted with. And we’ll be better for it.

To summarize: Education is what we do to our children when we want the world from them. Learning is what our children do when we give them the world.

I hope you enjoy this video. That it inspires you like it inspired me.

If you like this post, please share it on and spread the word – It’s pointless if it’s not passed on. And of course, if you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

Charting A Map Of The Learning Revolution

Ushahidi is an open-source software platform that plots a set of particular incidents, submitted by people via cell phone text messages, onto an online map. Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. It has also been used in disaster relief in Pakistan and to map crime incidents in Atlanta.

What if we used this software to create an interactive online map of the learning revolution? It could be filled with the sites of important talks like Ken Robinson’s ‘Schools Kill Creativity, with the locations of alternatives to school such as Compass. with the towns of proud home-schoolers, with initiatives like Imagining Learning and their listening sessions, and with the locations of schools where students or teachers are unhappy and want change.

How amazing would that be? A map of the world where you can see the physical location of like-minded people, click on their links, see what they’ve done, contact them. Mental!

For a clearer idea of what Ushahidi is all about, take a look at the video below.

I think we could create an exciting and convincing visual to spread awareness both of the problems in education and the growing numbers of solutionaries working to overcome them.

What do you think?

Replacing Schools With Centres For Self-Directed Learning

Compass Teens | Centre for Self-Directed Learning.

Compass teens is an alternative to school – a physical base for learners to use as a springboard for their personalized education, be it through their own projects, internships, building portfolios or one-one-tutorials. Its a very simple idea and I believe that every community should have a Learning Hub like this. A place for all ages to go and share their questions and dreams with other, real, face-to-face people. Click on the link at the start of the post to check it out!

There is a lot to be said for, and gained from, online learning. But learning is a social endeavor and while I don’t believe attendance should be regular or compulsory, there is no available technology to replace the value of face-to-face interaction.

Compass is a wonderful example of a form this type of Learning Center could take. And it is important that the emphasis is on learning, which is something people do for themselves, because they want to, and education, which is something that is done to people.

This way’ education’ is much more fluid, it starts with and spreads out from the learner, and can be organized and adapted as it goes along. There would no longer be any need for oceans of red tape to be hacked through by lobbyists as though they were Sleeping Beauty’s prince hacking through the forest of thorns. After perhaps years of campaigning, to slay the dragon of the old curriculum, only to find something else was wrong, and would take another gargantuan bureaucratic battle.

This way there would be no need for a set in stone curriculum,  rote learning, standardized tests, boring classrooms, force-fed learning or dogmatic teachers. This seems like a far more adequate proposition than High-School.

Students could make use of online resources as was required, people of all ages would learn together based on shared interests, what was in their hearts and minds rather than the date on their birth cert. Rather than taking ages to set up extensive internship  and apprenticeship schemes these things could be organized on a basis. People could explore what interested them and learn skills as was necessary to continue their exploration.

There are some interesting points made here in the Compass FAQ, and I recommend taking a look.

It sounds good to me. How about you?

Education Reform – GOOD

Education Reform – GOOD.

This is a fantastic website, never mind for education, but for anyone with an idealistic bent. But for our purposes I’m sharing the education reform section. It has nearly 150 articles of creative, solutiony goodness. While the ideas might be somewhat disparate, its still a goldmine for anyone who is passionate about this stuff.

Marketing itself as a social network for people who give a damn, I’d recommend rowing in and giving ‘good.is’ a go.

Education Reform Continues To Go Round In Circles – But Is It Narrowing On A Point?

Should parents set up their own state schools? Discuss | Geraldine Bedell | Education | Education | The Observer.

In a long and winding story about the laborious battle for parents to take more control over their children’s education, one parent asserts that:

“Human beings were not meant just to get five GCSEs.”

While the author of the article interjects at one point with a relieving sentiment:

“Everyone wants local schools with a diverse mix of pupils who are able to explore and fulfill their potential.”

I should hope so.

Meanwhile in Ireland, this article shows there is some awareness of the need for educational reform, however, sound bytes such as “the need for a world-class education system” still plague this piece. At least in the sphere of education, world class, at the present time, does not entail a particularly high standard. There appears to be little public debate on the matter, a lot of Irish people who have little experience of their countries education system will still say things like “Sure don’t we have one of the best education systems in the world” based off placement on the PISA rankings from a few years ago. PISA is notorious for ranking nations based on standardized tests results where the standards vary from country to country,also leading to countries like India and China who slave drive their children into good grades and out of innovation, to top the rankings.

The article also notes that more reviews and reports from official bodies are in the pipeline, but at this rate an education that provides each individual with the means to grow, be happy, and fulfill their potential, is a pipe dream. The article calls for an honest discussion, perhaps we need a platform for this. Something to get teachers, educators, legislators, parents and students all in the same room and on equal footing.

One of the more encouraging resources I’ve found is this co-operative blog on education reform called ‘Cooperative Catalyst’. Its a hive of ideas and discussion, and the realization of what the article in the Irish Examiner was calling for – an open and honest conversation.

How do you guys think actual change can be implemented, or awareness of the issues effectively raised? What resources have you encountered? Please share!