Education TEDTalks

8 highly unusual schools

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Eddie-Obeng-at-TEDGlobal-2013At TEDGlobal, educator Eddie Obeng highlighted a disconcerting thought — that the answers we learned in school aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing worldEddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world“This is what happened to us in the 21st century — someone changed the rules about how our world works,” says Obeng in this energetic talk. “The way to successfully run a business, an organization, even a country has been deleted. Flipped! There’s a completely new set of rules in operation … My simple idea is that the real 21st century around us isn’t so obvious to us, so instead we spend our time responding rationally to a world we understand but which no longer exists.”

In the past 40 years, the world’s population has doubled. Meanwhile, large tracts of people have settled in cities, and the Internet has greatly deepened the density of interaction among us. “The pace of change overtakes the pace of learning,” says Obeng. And yet, most institutions are horribly unprepared to handle rapid shifts. As Obeng explains, “You have to wait all the way for a cycle to fail before you can say, ‘There’s something wrong’ … We solve last year’s problems without thinking about the future.”

It is this challenge that inspired Obeng to found the virtual business school Pentacle. The school focuses on teaching people how to think and innovate in a world where change is the only constant. The key: what Obeng calls “smart failure.” In other words, rewarding those who trailblaze new approaches — even if they don’t work out — as opposed to those who trod along well-worn paths.

To hear more about Obeng’s philosophy, watch his fascinating talk. (Or see several of Obeng’s lessons on Pentacle’s YouTube channel.) Below, take a look at seven other TED speakers who founded schools with bold ideas for how to better prepare individuals for our ever-shifting world.

Gever Tulley: Life lessons through tinkeringGever Tulley: Life lessons through tinkeringGever Tulley: Life lessons through tinkering
Gever Tulley is the founder of the Tinkering School, where students are given the materials, tools and guidance to let their creativity run wild. In this talk from TED2009, Tulley shows photos of students building unique boats, bridges and roller coasters in a curriculum that stresses the ability to make things.
Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the CloudSugata Mitra: Build a School in the CloudSugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud
At TED2013, education innovator Sugata Mitra accepted the TED Prize, offering up the idea for a School in the Cloud. A learning lab in India where kids are free to explore big questions on their own online, the school won’t have teachers in a traditional sense. Instead, it will use “the granny cloud,” a network of retired teachers who will cheer learners on.
Shukla Bose: Teaching one child at a timeShukla Bose: Teaching one child at a timeShukla Bose: Teaching one child at a time
Two million people in Bangalore live in slums, and the majority of children there will never attend school. In this talk from TEDIndia in 2009, Shukla Bose describes her impetus for founding the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, a nonprofit that runs four schools for poor children, giving them chances they might never had had without an education.
John Hardy: My green school dreamJohn Hardy: My green school dreamJohn Hardy: My green school dream
In this talk from TEDGlobal 2010, John Hardy jokes that Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth ruined his life. The documentary inspired him to start the Green School in Bali. While the main school building is open-air and built from bamboo, the curriculum teaches students to build, garden and create.
Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movementBunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movementBunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement
Bunker Roy attended a college that was expensive — and elitist. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2011, Roy describes how spending time in an Indian village, where poverty was rampant, changed the course of his life and led him to found Barefoot College. Unlike a traditional school, Barefoot College is only for the poor, and teaches rural men and women to tap into their innate intelligence and become engineers, doctors or artisans.
Geoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio SchoolGeoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio SchoolGeoff Mulgan: A short intro to the Studio School
Far too many teenagers are bored with school. And when they finally receive their diploma, employers complain that students often aren’t prepared for success in the workplace. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2011, social innovator Geoff Mulgan describes a new approach — The Studio School — which focuses on developing student’s creativity by having them work on practical projects rather than simply listening to lectures.
Kakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded schoolKakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded schoolKakenya Ntaiya: A girl who demanded school
Kakenya Ntaiya runs a very unusual school in her Maasai village — a school for girls. In this powerful talk from TEDxMidAtlantic, she shares how she started the school. It not only involved making a deal with her father to go through the ritual of female circumcision in order to continue to high school, but then appealing to her village elders to get their approval to go to college.

This post was originally written in October of 2012, to accompany Eddie Obeng’s talk from TEDGlobal 2012. It was updated in May of 2013 for TED’s Education Week, in the lead up to TED Talks Education.