SWiTCHing Up Education


Today we have our first interview on EduCoup with 24-year-old Jaime Lee, founder of ‘Kids at SWiTCH’ , a weekend program in Chatswood, Australia that looks to foster entrepreneurial traits, financial literacy and initiative in kids from age five to ten by employing fun and engaging methods. Jamie told me how ‘Kids at SWiTCH’ differs from mainstream education, about the philosophy behind the program and her thoughts on  education in general.

Some of the main criticisms EduCoup has directed at mainstream education are of the practices of standardized testing , excessive rote learning, and a lack of humanity in the way kids are taught – not to mention the absence of action based learning, and peer-to-peer learning. ‘Kids at SWiTCH’ tackles all these issues head on. Jaime explained the format of the classes, and gave some of her take on what’s wrong with the kind of education many of us consider the norm.

The concept:

“Within a mini-economy, the children apply for jobs according to their interests and passion. When these kids are enjoying their jobs, work becomes a learning experience rather than just a means of making money. My mission was (and is) to not only foster financial literacy in each of my “kids”, but do so in a way which translates their instinctual passion and sense of play into a sense of unshakeable purpose.”

Learning by doing:

“Do you still remember when we were kids and we imagined ourselves as photographers, fire fighters, teachers and police officers? Well, I simply wanted to emulate that feeling and to bring that imaginative world into reality for kids. Instead of teaching them “about” the world, my goal is to teach them “within” a world that is filled with possibilities. Hence, I’ve created the concept of a mini economy.

In this mini economy, the children apply for jobs according to their interests and passions. I believe it is through intrinsic motivation that real learning can occur. When children enjoy their jobs, work becomes a learning experience rather than just a means of making money.

The children have ownership over their money. They set financial goals for themselves and can choose whether they want to spend their money at the shops or save it at the bank. However, every week the children are charged with rental fees for things such as their chairs as part of their daily expenses. If don’t pay, they sit on the floor. Currently, I have two six-year-old kids who have already bought two chairs, and they are now renting them out to their friends at a higher price!

Through tangible and vivid experiences, the children quickly learn that buying assets such as chairs, beanbags and shops can help them generate passive income. During the course, the children are also faced with a variety of economic circumstances, such as inflation, deflation, paying taxes and losing their jobs. This process allows the children to understand the importance of making investments and to create a second source of income.

My goal is to empower them. I want them to feel like they’ve taken command of a body of material and can actually do things with it in the real world. I’m not interested in teaching them the skills to ‘survive’, but the skills to ‘thrive’.

Different creative thinking styles are fostered here. The creation of classroom businesses/shops give children an abundance of opportunities to learn from their own experiences and apply their knowledge in new ways. I also love involving children at an early age with the joy and benefit of giving. One of the kids’ favourite activities is to exchange letters with our Sponsor Child, Alvin. Mr 9 once said this to me, “Jamie when I have more money, I want to help a lot of people.”

Mentally I am empowering these kids to look for opportunities to be the architects of their own learning. Emotionally I am helping them to see that they are capable of making enormous contributions to society. And socially I am mentoring them to work together and to take their play seriously.

Here’s a website that Mr. 8 has created by himself(We here at EduCoup recommend checking this site out. Mr. 8, or Divyesh Malhotra, should be very proud of the work he put in to get it online.)

He is now in the process of adding a shopping cart onto it. From my observation, when these kids are given the opportunities to discover their passion, they become audacious in trying new things, and they move, learn with a much stronger purpose.”

Get Up One More Time Then You Fall:

“At 23, straight after I graduated from university I took a steep learning curve and got straight into the unknown. The first information day for Kids at SWiTCH wasn’t quite working. Whilst, the room was packed with supportive friends and family, none of the potential clients actually attended. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. The weather was terrible, the location was inappropriate and my speech was too long. But with every mistake and failure came an opportunity for me to learn. My mentor comforted me with this quote, she said “you’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.” And through this experience, I recognized the importance of being able to drill down to identify issues and problems, and solve them before anyone knew of their existence.”

“My first two clients were from referrals. These two mums wanted me to personally teach their children – not because I had the most experience as a teacher, but because they knew I would do whatever it took to defend their unbounded imagination, curiosity and creativity.”

Jamie had eight students for the first term and has had emails of gratitude, invitations to lunch, and requests to host birthday parties from the parents of those children. Sometimes the kids are enjoying themselves too much, and don’t want to come home.

“It’s been 10 months since the start of Kids at SWiTCH, and currently we run four ninety-minute weekend classes. It brings so much joy to me knowing that it has become a place which kids don’t think of it as a school; it’s now has place of innovation, creation and contribution, one which they yearn to visit every day.”

Putting Art And Heart Back Into Education:

“I see education as an art, not a science and it must come from the heart. It’s so important for teachers to realize that in years to come, their students may not remember much about what they’ve taught them, but they’ll always remember how they’ve made them feel.

If there’s one thing that I could do to change our education system I’d add more quality “listening time” into a teachers’ day. A time where teachers can listen to the students’ stories, finding out about their hopes and dreams, and becoming acquainted with their aspirations. Often, it is through listening that I was able to lead based upon what I’ve learned. Learning is reciprocal, and with this kind of experience, our kids do not need to care about trying to fit in. They are free agents in letting their creative and imagination run wild.

I believe the most important thing a teacher can do for a student, is not to teach them, but to inspire them.”

Swimming Against The Tide:

“One of my close friends once said this to me:

It’s not easy when you’re swimming against the tide. But it doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. Don’t let the world tell you what to do. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it. Once you’ve successfully fought against the tide, you’ll have a larger capacity to add value to people, lifting them up and helping them to become a part of something bigger than themselves.”

I’d like to thank Jaime for taking part in this interview and sharing the wonderful work she’s doing with ‘Kids at SWiTCH’.


Ken Robinson Ignites The Spark Of The Learning Revolution

The first of Ken Robinsons spoken word anthems on the movement to defend the qualities that make children so wonderful, that are under attack by our education systems. Its funny, moving, eye opening and inspirational – watch it.

Unoccupy Schools To Occupy Minds?

Education systems worldwide are in drastic need of not just reform but a complete re-imagining. But with so much red tape in the way of such change, its hard to see it happening before we see the full potential of yet another generation go to waste. So perhaps its time for the many students and educators and parents who are disillusioned with current practice, to make themselves heard, and make their concerns visible.

Why not hold a day (or more) of organized truancy –  hear me out – where rather than going off smoking, drinking and causing trouble – we show the educational establishment how it should be done. We try out methods that fit the neuroscience of how we learn – action based learning, peer-to-peer learning, the use of technology. Where we make learning fun and colorful and spectacular. All we need is a large enough space with an internet connection and we can hold our own conference where students, parents and educators discuss what they really want and need from education and how best we can achieve that.

This would be far from an angry ‘spit-in-the-eye’ of authority type event, but I do think it should happen on a school day. That way more people are likely to sit up and take notice, and when they see that we’re all learning more from these protests, or conferences, than we are at school – they’re bound to be more sympathetic to our cause. Like Mark Twain said, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” And we all want to raise historically quotable younglings right?

Seriously though – maybe a number of similar events could be coordinated around the world?Perhaps big names like Ken Robinson and Seth Godin would partake. Perhaps education ministers would show up. But we can’t let it turn into a speech fest with luminaries hogging the limelight. They’re already luminaries, they don’t need lights to stand out. It should be a place where the big names speak to the dissenting students and old school teachers at the same time, and all on equal footing.

Recently the world became alive with discussion as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement spread around the world. Angry at the disparities between rich and poor, or as their slogans put it, “The 1% and the 99%”, the Occupy Movement as a whole experienced a lot of internal debate over what it actually wanted. Some members pointed at Income inequality and corruption on Wall St. While others debated whether the movement should have any concrete demands at all. Some on-the-ground participants I spoke to myself in Dublin seemed to have no more than a vague but powerful feeling of dissatisfaction at ‘the system’. All they knew was they longed for something more humane.

People like this attracted a lot of criticism, as Bob Dylan sang “I’ll know my song well before I start singing”. These people, it was said, should have known exactly what they wanted or what was wrong before they started demanding our attention with protests. But had they not had the courage to go out on the streets and give expression to their gut feeling of unease, how many dinner table conversations would not have happened? How many new and interesting thoughts would have gone unprovoked? And how many times less might the status quo have been challenged? Later in his career Dylan also sang “One of these days and it won’t be long, I’m going down in the valley to sing my song, I’m gonna sing it loud, sing it strong, let the echo decide if I was right or wrong.”

The courage of those people in expressing themselves, even if it wasn’t in the most articulate fashion, started a conversation and brought the issues into focus. Bringing an issue into the focus of the collective social consciousness is a very important step towards solving it.

That’s what we need to do – bring the problem of education into the public focus. Give it some pizzaz! If we can invite some official types and celebrities to give the protest or conference or whatever more news worthiness than all the better! But this is a grassroots movement and its down to teachers and learners and parents on the ground to take our fate into our own hands, not look to so-called higher-ups to fix things for us.

Please leave your thoughts, suggestions and criticisms in the comments. Providing the best education possible is not a pet peeve of some boarded up blogger, its important to our whole society! It affects every one of our nearest and dearest, and as for our enemies – perhaps we’d get along if we’d learned more effectively from the beginning how to communicate and treat others? So get involved, as Edmund Burke said. “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for men(and women) of good will to do nothing”.

Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams Ted Talk

An excellent talk given by one of the worlds’ most successful marketers Seth Godin. From the origins of public education as a rehearsal for factory work to eight cures for our current educational conundrums, Godin is in full flow here. Don’t forget to check out his free pdf/e-book – The Stop Stealing Dreams Manifesto. There is a version for your PC monitor to be e-mailed aswell as a version for printing.

Baring in mind plenty of people including myself would pay twenty quid for this I’d recommend grabbing it as it is free.

Please leave a comment or follow and let’s be the change we want to see in the world!

The Ideal Classroom Does Not Exist

I recently watched a video where the young educational campaigner Nikhil Goyal, was interviewed about his new book ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’. He was getting on just fine until he was asked to describe ‘The Ideal Classroom’. I have nothing but respect for Goyal but the truth is he stumbled when answering the question. There are a lot of people who can clearly articulate all the problems with the current education system. The problem is they don’t have a clear vision of the ideal alternative.

When we attempt to imagine the ideal school or classroom, we tend to begin with a vision of schools and classrooms as we’re familiar with them. We see a big school building divided into classrooms which are filled with rows of desks for students to face a single desk at the top of the room for the teacher. We then start trying to tweak this image – “What if we arranged the chairs in a circle?”, or “What if we got rid of the chairs and desks altogether?”, “maybe if we put mirrors on the ceiling?” This method will take you nowhere, and fast. So what does the ideal classroom look like then?

Breaking news folks – There is no ideal classroom.

We need not create a space solely and specifically for learning. Our whole lives, and the world, are our learning space. Instead of starting with the idea of a classroom filled with rows of chairs and a teachers’ desk. Imagine a great big white space, empty save for a group of people from a variety of demographics – with only one thing in common – they all have problems they need to overcome in order to be 100% happy, fulfilled and productive. Learning is at its core, a problem solving tool.

Now, starting at the beginning(namely, with our learners), let’s start to kit out our ‘classroom’ based on the unique needs of our students. This can take us to places and environments we would never expect:

Stephen Ritz teaches a classroom in the South Bronx, in what would be considered by many to be a poor and underprivileged area. But he got attendance of his class to grow from 40 to 93 per cent in a year. How did he do that? What does his classroom look like? Well, it has a garden. Yes, you read correctly – a garden. It has seed incubators and fish tanks, mini ecosystems and Lego Sets! Every ninety days the class produces enough greens to provide a vegetarian meal for the other four hundred and fifty students at the school. The students have gone on trips employing their new horticultural skills for money and experience. In the Hamptons they were paid three and a half thousand dollars each a week, and learned to surf! So – they were engaged, as evidenced by the explosion in attendance, they learned valuable real life skills that earned them a pretty penny plus some great experiences, and they developed healthy eating habits.

“Yes but realistically not every classroom can look like that!” I hear you cry. That’s right – we’d be educating a world of gardeners. It might be good for the environment, but we’d have no one to steal our money and mess up the economy. Of course, every classroom wouldn’t look like that. Do you think any of the other classrooms in the school Ritz taught in was like that? No. The point is there does not need to be a set-in-stone model classroom,in fact, there needs to not be one. Educational environments need to come in all shapes and forms, just like the kids they are there to inspire.

Let’s replace the word and concept of ‘classroom’, with Educational Hubs or – “EduHubs”. We’re going to kit out our EduHubs based on the needs of our learners and the problems they need to solve. Like any group of people, they’re a diverse bunch with diverse needs. So different needs for different people means one EduHub might look very different to another. They would be changing environments to meet changing needs. Some needs though, are constant. Anyone looking to solve a problem is going to need access to information so they can research that problem. So clearly we need to equip our learners with the best tools available to access and dissect information. Namely: a laptop or tablet, and access to humanities’ collective brain – the internet. Secondly, you need someone to talk with, to share your goals, hopes and fears etc. Someone more experienced than you – a mentor. In other words, teachers aren’t going anywhere. But as the aforementioned Goyal(who’s book is also where I heard of Stephen Ritz) puts it –

“Traditionally, the role of the teacher has been the gatekeeper of knowledge, the all-knowing fountain of wisdom students, or the “sponges”, are expected to soak up. The interests of the students are given no regard… Now everything has changed. All the information we desire is only a click away. The teacher is not the “know-it-all” anymore. Thus the role of the teacher must change from a gatekeeper to a guide, a facilitator, a mentor, and a broker of learning opportunities… It’s time for you (teachers) to fade into the background… Remember teachers: It’s not about you. It’s about them (students)”.

How can we make it happen?

Radical change only ever comes out of a need, never just a want. In other words, for all the education crusaders trying to convince legislators and educators to do things differently – it’s never going to happen. Why? Even if teachers and politicians did want to change things, they need them to stay the same. Flawed as it may be, their lives are structured around and dependent upon, the current system. They have a vested interest in it, whether they agree with it philosophically or not. I am not going to blame anyone for prioritising the bread on their kids table over the brains of someone else’s. Nor am I going to blame students in fighting for their rights. A compromise can be reached between us, but the current compromise is nothing more than intellectual slavery.

That is why it is up to us, the students, to change things. We feel so powerless to change things but the truth is we are the ones with the most power in this situation. If we boycott school in favour of an idea I call a ‘Learn-In’. Heard of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s love in for peace? Think of this as a ‘Learn-in’ for a better education. It’s like the Occupy Movement, except we’re going to unoccupy schools, and meet up ourselves for days of idea sharing and collaboration, along with all the food and craic and banter of movements like the Occupy Movement – Learning should be fun, it shouldn’t be divided into forty minute segments sitting on your bum.

What will the Learn-Ins achieve? They will upset the apple cart that the Powers That Be have their vested interests in. The truth is the powers that be are not the powers that be. They have successfully convinced us that they can control us, that they are in charge, but we are the ones with the real power.  More often than not throughout history it is young people who have brought about great societal upheavals – The Civil Rights movement was driven by masses of young people, the sixties counter-culture, Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, The Occupy Movement, Arab Spring – whatever about the people who headlined these revolutions, the majority of active participants in all of them were under thirty.

What will happen when we boycott school days? When we refuse to sit down and shut up in class? when we boycott our homework and end of year exams? Our parents (the voters) will get angry, wondering first of all why their children are not in school, and second of all why they are so much happier and more productive. This will scare the politicians and legislators into taking action, at the risk of losing out in the polls. We have to make them remember that the bread on their tables depends on our cooperation. Because guess what? It does. So let’s not meet their demands untill they meet ours.

We may not have all the answers to exactly how we want things to be, but how would we have all the answers after receiving such a poor education so far? When push comes to shove it won’t matter, once we refuse to be their slaves, the ‘Establishment’ will be forced to change. Learning happens in tandem with doing. We cannot study the transformations that need to take place so thoroughly that we have a precise step-by-step guide to something that has never been done before. Our starting point must be the will to change. From there we will explore various possibilities and learn as we go along. We can’t do much worse than the experiment-gone-wrong that is the whole of standardized education so far, can we? Where there is a will, there are usually a few ways to explore before you hit upon the better ones.

According to legend it took Thomas Edison a thousand attempts to invent the light bulb. Asked by a reporter how it felt to fail 999 times, Edison replied “I have not failed 999 times. I have simply found 999 ways that do not work.” We must apply the rationale of one of histories’ greatest inventors to education. How would Edison have fared had he sat around thinking till he felt he knew perfectly, exactly how to create a light bulb? You’d be reading this by candle light, never mind a monitor. Or if he had stuck stubbornly with his first attempt, making minor tweaks in the hope that by some magic it would come ablaze? The only thing he’d have set fire to is his own sanity.

So we have to be honest about our own shortcomings. Something I never saw any of my teachers do. Either you agreed with them or you were outside the room and on detention for backchat. But we we have to show that we mean business, and that means  a lot more than just backchat; it means action. We can no longer accept the pressure, boredom, and uniformity that is foisted upon us as the norm in our daily lives. From now on whenever we are mistreated we must have the moral courage and pride in who we are to stand up and walk out the next time we are disrespected. If we are to be sent out when we are disrespectful, we can very well walk out when we are not provided that same respect.

Walking down the hall one day in my old secondary school, between classes, I heard my vice-principal shout down a pupil who dared to question his judgement, roaring “This is my school! You don’t have a voice”.  Well, let all the self-righteous roaring we’ve all heard in our ‘educations’ be our collective wake up call. Let’s show them that we do have a voice, and now is our time to make it heard. Let’s take back our childhoods, take back our dreams. The ideal classroom does not exist, but the idealistic youth always has, and always will – Let all of us who are still young and idealistic at heart, fight for those ideals. For if we forfeit our ideals – we forfeit ourselves.

Lullaby Lectures

“Some people talk in their sleep. Lecturers talk while others sleep” – Albert Camus

In his book ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’, author Nikhil Goyal talks about how the lecturing format originated in the 14th century, prior to the printing press. He is dumbfounded that six hundred years later, even after the advent of the internet, we still use such an ineffectual method as a staple tool in our education system. Don’t believe me when I say lecturing doesnt work? The research is there to back me up.

Eric Mazur, professor of physics at Harvard University, confessed, “Its alot more fun being on stage delivering a lecture than it is sitting in the audience watching it.”
As a current college student and recovering victim of Ireland’s secondary school system, I can certainly attest to that. Even in our most entertaining lecturers’ classes, I tend to zone in and out. Its not that I’m not eager to learn, in fact its the opposite – I don’t want to waste an hour and a half of my time paying full attention to a lecture which may not be on the most relevant topic to me. Not just that, but the nature of how our brains learn makes it impossible for me to retain much of what’s said. So I spend the time typing articles and stories, or researching, during lectures; occasionally tuning in to ask a question.

So what are the alternatives? Sugata Mitra gave an enlightening Ted Talk presenting his work with children from slums in New Delhi, which demonstrates the astonishing efficacy of peer to peer learning. Successful learning is intrinsically social, it involves minds engaging one another – rather than one ‘superior’ teacher brain feeding information into thirty ‘ignorant’ student brains. There should be a flow of communication(and collaboration – action based learning is vital) between thirty one brains with the teacher acting as facilitator, not pedagogue. Mazur also employs peer to peer learning as discussed in this riveting article on lecturing versus peer to peer learning.

One thing that has been widely touted but certainly is not the solution is ‘Khan Academy’, an online video resouce which is simply rote learning and lecturing brought to the internet and made accessible at any time. All that does is improve a broken method. Like trying to execute someone with a water pistol instead of a banana: unless you’ve taken classes on how to defend yourself against fresh fruit, neither method is likely to be all that effective.

Leave a comment and say what you think, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading and if you liked the post – please subscribe!