This day we got to know Sarah Brown and the tough work she is doing to improve the lives of children with several NGOs. For those who may not know, she is the wife of Gordon Brown, former prime minister of UK. On the main stage, she was joined by two "Global Youth Ambassadors" of her A World at School organization, a great enterprise to rise awareness of the educational challenges for kids in the world, specially developing countries.
Guided by her ideas we followed her towards the collaboration session, chaired by Oliver Quinlan and Gavin Dykes. The session title made us think that global challenges about education and how to overcome them would be discussed there. However, it centred on what it is meant when people talk about collaboration, specially how the different sectors (entrepreneurs, corporate, government, research, and NGOs) need to trust each other and among them to work together. It was a bit more meta discussion of what I expected, but the chairs and the speakers made it interesting, and after all the merge of all the sectors is what we are also promoting at et.lakes at a regional and global scale. Russell Quaglia, in the audience, brought three main factors for successful collaboration: tolerance, humility and transparency. From Oliver we got a reminder that we need to move away from metrics and measurements, numbers after all, and look for evidence, stories that repeat and convey meaning. From Gavin, we got repeated calls to read the book Collaboration, unfortunately I couldn't catch the author name...
Next was the utelias.org session, where they presented their School Festival. A bottom-up approach to education that involves the community and gets rid of structure. During their major event, a hundred of learning events were proposed and conducted for one day. Anyone could become a teacher for one hour, and anyone could learn from their peers the most diverse skill and knowledge. The innovative use of a derelict mental sanatorium is really caught my attention. We had a brief discussion with them on how to organize something similar in Joensuu, along this years' SciFest or the next one. At Joensuu, we already have the whole sports arena and more than 6000 kids coming. It would be great to make the event larger and engage with the people from Joensuu to use the space for real open peer-learning.
Before we go to the closing bits of the festival, I'd like to reflect on the networking opportunities this unconference provided. One example is already in the previous paragraph. The School Festival may be coming to SciFest thanks to Oppi. Also, we got to know great new companies developing exciting new educational technologies. Even, one of them, Songhi will have a workshop at SciFest. Songhi have developed a social music platform where kids create and share music. One of the greatest outcomes is how it gets school kids from different background together and break barriers. It would be good to see them in action at the festival. Another innovative company, International Minifiddlers, is moving the music teaching further, this time using real violins and a powerful international network to get kids learning violin to practice together and learn from a great violin teacher from Helsinki, Géza Szilvay. The other two topics addressed by the companies were Maths (Smart Kids' from SkillPixels) and English language education (from Havina Productions): definitely two big markets. From the companies present at the fair, only Rovio seems to be thinking in emerging economies first with their "Angry Birds Playground" marketed to Chinese kindergartens. The talks at the festival, e.g., from Aape Pohjarvirta, Sarah Brown, and Sugata Mitra, pointed towards the challenges and opportunities lying out of our comfortable borders. Neil, from Zaya, was the only product to think about them. However, it seems to have been designed far from where it is supposed to be used. Users need to be involved first by listing their strengths and needs so that they will feel the urge to use the new solutions.
And with that thought, we can move towards the final bits of the conference. And it finished with music, just as it started. Signmark, a Finnish rapper who happens to be deaf, and will.i.am, an American rapper who is running robotics education programmes in the 'hoods of L.A., brought us two music videos that reflect on the importance of education and believing in one-self. Check them out:
In summary, the festival was a big success in which everyone got to hear new points of view to inspire new actions to transform education. The worst part was not being able to be in every session, and I missed several interesting talks by Clare Sutcliffe from Code Club, Bill Lucas - the Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, Dr Teemu Leinonen, and the people from the Innovation Unit, which has released what seems to be one of the best books for et.lakes and anyone interested in education that impacts everyone's life: Learning a Living.
Big kudos to Suukla for organizing this event. It was great to be part of it!