Education

TEDIndia Session 8: Learning to Learn

Posted by: Matthew Trost

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Photo: TEDIndia 2009. Mysore, India, November 4-7, 2009. Credit: TED / James Duncan Davidson

Here’s what we learned from the the second-to-last session of TEDIndia, “Learning to Learn”:

Sashwati Banerjee brings greetings from the longest street in the world: Sesame Street. Director of Sesame Workshop, Sashwati Banerjee takes the stage after a fun dialogue between Googly and Chamki, two colorful Muppets that were created for Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Indian version of Sesame Street. She asks, How can we use TV and other outreach to connect to the children who have little access to education? The 128 million pre-school children (of whom 4 of 5 are marginalized) in India are a huge opportunity. She’s fascinated by the potential of new media: social networking and mobile technology, she says, can bridge the education gap between rich and poor even faster than satellite TV can. Galli Galli Sim Sim >>

C.K. Prahalad studies business and innovation around the globe — from the top to the bottom of the economic pyramid. He asks, “How do you convert information into insight, and then into action?” Learning, he says, is about inference; two people will infer different things from the same information. We can improve learning by understanding the processes that alter the way different people make inferences. Organizations must understand these processes, or develop an institutional “learning disability.” Organizations make mistakes as a result: mistaking current profits for leadership, unwillingness to face up to capability gaps. How can we break the power structure that creates these “disabilities”? Prahalad suggests technology: new ways to communicate, to analyze problems, to create dialogue with customers. We’re at a unique point in history — more people than ever have access to information through technology, but we must democratize learning, too. Books by C.K. Prahalad >>

Thulasiraj Ravilla directs the Lions Aravind Institute of Community Opthalmology, helping eye-care hospitals prevent blindness. He asks us, “What does it mean to be blind?” We often forget that blindness can deprive more than eyesight: dignity and status, too. Yet most blindness can be prevented. He breaks down the thinking that led to the creation of his innovative Aravind system. In part, the system was inspired by McDonald’s: if you can franchise the mechanism for giving eye care, replicating the same methodologies in multiple places, you can solve blindness all over the country. You must also remove the barriers to entry to the system, making eye care centers accessible, and making the screening process more efficient by going paperless. His system also allows highly specialized care to be delivered to small villages, using satellite communication technology. But once you have an efficient system, how to you manage the demand when there are so few opthalmologists? He shows video clips of clinics, where doctors alternate between two surgical chairs in one operating room, a patient being prepared in one as surgery happens in another. He plans on helping to extend his system to the rest of the world — perhaps even the United States. Standing ovation. Learn about the Aravind Eye Care System >>

Kiran Bir Sethi founded the Riverside School in Ahmedabad. She says “contagious is a good word — even in the age of H1N1. Laughter is contagious too.” She wants us to get infected with “I can.” She shows video clips of common practices at Riverside School — practices that give children the feeling that they can go out and change the world. By making children aware of learning, enabling them to teach themselves, the system empowers them to teach others — including their own parents. The public service aspect of the program may seem a diversion from core education programming, but the students at Riverside have shown to out-perform other students in math, science, and English studies. Standing ovation. Learn about Riverside School >>

Matthew Spacie runs Magic Bus, a nonprofit that helps kids develop through sport. He shares the story of how a simple rugby game ended up encouraging a group of boys to stay off of the streets and away from drugs. He expanded the game into a full-fledged program that is changing the way we look at how to help individuals escape poverty traps. By giving children community and self-confidence, they learn to make better decisions for their lives — and contribute to a more sustainable society. Standing ovation. Matthew Spacie’s profile at Magic Bus >>

Eve Ensler created “The Vagina Monologues,” whose success propelled her to found V-Day — a movement to end violence against girls and women. She asks us to get in touch with our “girl self” — an attribute that is a part of every human being, but which has been suppressed by cultural power-structures. She says “being a girl is so powerful that we’ve taught everyone not to be that.” She takes us to Congo, where women are raped routinely as a part of the barbaric conflict. She takes us to her childhood, where her father abused her sexually — and she realized that her crying exposed his brutality. It’s a travesty, she says, that young boys are taught to be cold, hardened, to behave without tenderness or compassion. Just as girls are oppressed, they are also objectified, and also “trained to please.” Girls must be taught to educate. The fate of the girl is entwined with the fate of humankind. The capacity for girls to overcome situations is mind-blowing — as a species, we need to learn from that capacity. She closes with a powerful, energizing reading from “I Am an Emotional Creature.” Standing ovation. Eve Ensler’s profile at the V-Day website >>

Babar Ali, at 16, created his own school in his home village. He joins TED Curator Chris Anderson and TED Fellow Mohammed Tauheed (acting as a translator) for a short Q&A session. BBC article on Babar Ali >>

Watch the final session online
Stay tuned! The closing session of TEDIndia, Session 9, will be available for free on the Times of India website at 11:00 AM IST (GMT/UTC +05:30 hours).