standardized testing

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.

The Flaws In Our Education System

Here’s a quick list of what I see as some of the main flaws in our education system. By ‘Our Education System’ I mean Ireland, China, the US, India and many others – there may be some differences but most education systems today and throughout the short history of public education, suffer from these shortcomings to some degree or another. Pardon the pun.

Some of our Education Systems most glaring flaws:

  • Standardized Testing: Life isn’t standardized. Does anyone care what Einsteins results were? No, because he dropped out when he was fifteen to go change the world. Do all the A grade college grads working in retail and bars care that their scores were so good when they’re not in the career they wanted? This is taking the joy out of learning and placing undue pressure on students at a time in their lives where they need to be given room to explore and experiment.
  • Excessive Rote Learning: The whole of human knowledge is a couple of clicks away, we need to be learning how to process and analyse all that info, not memorize so much of it when computers are so much more efficient at that. Even in Ireland where education has been as sleepy and out of touch as anywhere else, there is a growing awareness for the need to change, even in the political and educational establishments themselves.
  • Factory based education. Universal public education came about when adult factory workers became disgruntled with all the cheap labour children and teens taking their jobs. A compromise was made: An education system that would produce well-drilled, obedient factory workers was put in place. The workers got their jobs back, and the factory owners got a steady production line of unquestioning, reliable drones.
  • Teacher Training: While we all know wonderfully passionate and hardworking teachers, too often I or my friends were treated as obstacles to an end of week pay-cheque. Teacher training needs to change to shift the emphasis from one right answer, being obedient and memorizing, to asking questions, coming up with different ideas and viewpoints, and creating. Aswell as teachers loving the kids and wanting with all their hearts to help them succeed. For an example in the kinds of teachers we need, check out this post by Jamie Lee from Kids at SWiTCH

I experienced this alot in school myself. Though not with that specific question.

The following article on Forbes touches on the majority of the above points and I’d recommend reading it.

I’ll be following this post up with a similar list of possible solutions over the next couple of days, so stay tuned!

What, in your opinion, are the education systems’ flaws?