Ankara-13s

This was a photo I took of the audience from stage

On April 30th I had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote to a group of over 1,200 VIPs at the International Education Forum II: “Innovation in Education” held in Ankara, Turkey. These were remarkable people dedicated to reforming the state of education in a country poised for greatness.

The event gave center stage to some of the world’s most visionary thinkers in the field of education, and the audience listened intently to every idea being presented.

At issue is a Turkish national education system that remains far behind most industrialized countries when evaluated on the basis of testing scores in the key areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

With forums like this, where ideas from around the world come together, it’s very difficult to translate these ideas into actionable plans. Free thinkers often frustrate public policy people because ideas that work on a small scale often don’t translate into large-scale implementations, and cultural differences can interfere with things that work well elsewhere.

After leaving Ankara, I spent the past week thinking about the challenges that lie ahead for this critically important country, trying to reconcile the challenges of making changes within a national education system and the needs of the future. Here are some of my thoughts in this area.

Turkish Education Association – TED

The Turkish Education Association (TED – not to be confused with TED.com) was founded in 1928 by Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk always believed in the indisputable role of education in the modernization of Turkey.

Today, TED Ankara College currently has more than 5,000 students, 500 teachers, 220 employees and 26,000 alumni that include many important Turkish people such as politicians, famous actors, artists, lawyers and businessmen. They operate an extensive extra-curricular program for students including athletics, international simulations, music, art, science, folk dance, drama and interest groups and clubs.

Over the course of our time in Ankara, we spent two days touring schools ranging from pre-school to high school, which they call college.

Meeting the students as they pitched their “startup” product ideas

The day before the big Education Forum, TED Ankara College held an educational fair where students presented themselves as startup companies, pitching their products and those of us working our way through the displays were asked to vote by signing over $1,000 checks to the ones we liked best. We were each given 10 of these symbolic checks and there were approximately 30 exhibits.

Each exhibit was manned by a team of 4-5 students. The products ranged from energy-capture technology on highways, to a strengthening-layer of fiber inside of tires to improve longevity, to replaceable heels on women’s shoes for improve style and comfort. My favorite was a deodorant-style retractable butter dispenser for applying butter to toast.

The part that I wasn’t prepared for was the aggressive nature of the students who were “asking for the money.” Perhaps some of our startups in the U.S. should take lessons from these kids.

With U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone

International Education Forum II

The Turkish Education Association (TED) and Sebit Education and Information Technology Inc. in cooperation with Ankara TED College produced the 2nd annual International Education Forum II based on the theme of “Innovation in Education.” The event was opened with remarks by Presidential Secretary General Mustafa Isen.

Two full days of impressive speakers who addressed the audience included:

  • Burcu Esmersoy – NTV
  • Prof. Dr. Umran Inan  – Koc University
  • Prof. Dr. Sugata Mitra – Newcastle University
  • Ali Turker – Sebit Education and Information Technologies
  • Ambassador Shirin – Technopolis Turkey
  • Prof. Dr. Tosun Terzioglu – Sabanci University
  • Prof. Dr. Teemu Leinonen  – Aalto University
  • Ufuk Tarhan – M-GEN Future Planning Center
  • Anne Shaw  – 21st Century Schools
  • Prof. Dr. Ziya Selcuk – Gazi University
  • Dr. Monica Martinez – KnowledgeWorks Foundation
  • Prof. Dr. Petek Askar – Izmir University of Economics

Videos of the sessions can be seen here and here.

Preparing for the World Ahead

“Education is the progressive realization of our own ignorance.” – – Albert Einstein

Being the “best” means nothing if the world wants “different”

Education has become a monolithic industry, run in a traditional top-down fashion, with long time educators assuming leadership positions within an organizational structure they have dedicated their lives to improve.

But being the “best” means nothing, if the rest of the world wants “different.”

I would like to begin by posing a series of probing questions:

  1. What kind of future is our current education system preparing us for?
  2. Will the “real future” differ from the education system’s “anticipated future?”
  3. What kind of intelligence will the future demand?
  4. How will these demands placed on our lives change over time?
  5. Are the skills needed today going to be the same skills needed tomorrow?
  6. What skills that we teach today are “forever” skills and which ones are not?
  7. What possible changes could happen that will make our existing talents and skills obsolete?
  8. How can we tell when the rest of the world is headed in the wrong direction?

How do we know when we’re not prepared for the future?

The future is changing quickly. In much the same way that being a skilled typesetter and movie projectionist have seen their jobs come and go, many of today’s most sought-after skills will begin to vanish.

Generally we have little warning that our jobs are going away until it is too late. Many of us have spent years building our reputation and identity around the work that we do. We want to be known as the best in our profession. Yet, when industry changes occur, we have few anchor points left to latch onto. The noble profession we dedicated our lives to has quickly become little more than a relic of the past.

Is there a quicker way to know when the world is about to change, and how do we shift gears and prepare for something new?

Who are the people most prepared for radical change?

As we think through a world with turbulent times ahead, who will we turn to for answers? Who will be the ones who can most effectively lead us through the coming periods of rapid change? The answers lie in people with adaptive personalities and their ability to find inspiration where most of us see chaos.

To me, they look a lot like the young people at the education fair at Ankara College.

More importantly, is this a learnable skill that we can all build into our mental frameworks and incorporate into our daily lives?

Yes, I believe it is, but it will require a few cultural shifts along the way.

Four Great Fallacies

Our current education systems are designed around a factory model for manufacturing educated students. Here are four of the great fallacies of this approach:

  1. Students cannot learn without teachers
  2. Learning does not happen outside of the classroom
  3. Completion equals competency
  4. When you graduate, you are done learning

Certainly no one is signing their name to these beliefs, but the current education system is premised on this type of thinking.

Signalling a Rebirth

So how do we create better systems for developing high-caliber students capable of flourishing during adversities? I would like to propose the following items as a way to rethink the current system:

1.) Closing the Gap between Experts and Students

Education has traditionally consisted of the two fundamental elements of teaching and learning, with a heavy emphasis on teaching. Throughout history, the transfer of information from the teacher to the learner has been done on a person-to-person basis, with a teacher lecturing to a group of students. This approach, however, requires the teacher to be an expert on every topic that they teach, and great inefficiencies lie in the slow and painful process of creating new experts. Modern communication systems enable students to eliminate the teachers in the middle, and learn directly from the experts. As an example, a scientist that makes a breakthrough can now broadcast their findings directly to students around the world.

Closing the distance-gap between experts and students is an essential ingredient in next-generation learning systems.

2.) Teaching Vs Learning

Teaching requires experts, but learning only requires coaches

Online education can be delivered far more efficiently than using a dedicated classroom to coordinate time and location schedules for all those involved. Over time online education will become well-designed learning experiences that can be delivered far beyond the walls of a single school. As this transition takes place, the teaching profession will begin to transform from teaching to coaching, moving away from curriculum development and topical experts in the classroom to knowledgeable generalists with a penchant for finding the answers.

3.) Curiosity-Driven Hyper-Individualized Learning Systems

Learning what we want, when we want it – shifting away from a prescribed course agendas to ones that are hyper-individualized, self-selected, and scheduled at times that sync well with the student will dramatically change levels of motivation and participation. Since each student comes with their own unique mixture of skills, desires, and preferences, the sooner a student can focus in on the traits and talents they excel at, the quicker they will be able to find a meaningful direction for themselves.

4.) Classroom Shift – From Lectures and Tests to Group Experiences

As schools begin to wrap their mind around the benefits of online education, existing school facilities will begin to transition into interactive experiential learning centers. Students today want to go beyond the one-way flow of information. They no longer wish to be “lectured to.” They want to participate. A whole new generation of tools and equipment are being designed to shift people from mere “absorbers of information” to full-blown “experience participants.”

5.) Group Experiences – Relationship-Building

One of the greatest values of the school experience is the life-long relationships that develop along the way. This benefit is lost with most online education systems. Social networks allow students to form “weak relationships” with people around the world, and weak relationships have their own advantages. But working and living side-by-side with people is the foundation for “strong relationships” with far greater degrees of interest and caring. Strong relationships remain the foundational underpinnings of business communities, and schools continue to serve as an ideal Petri dish for new relationships to germinate and blossom.

6.) Transition to One-Hour Learning Modules

With the pace of society ratcheting faster every year, fewer and fewer people find themselves able to schedule their time around a traditional college class that meets 3 times a week for the next 12 weeks. Many students are lost because they are not able to mesh their schedule with the archaic you-need-to-adapt-to-our-schedule attitude of schools.

When it comes to retraining for a new career, schools that organize their offerings around flexible one-hour online learning modules will have a far easier time attracting students. Some learning experiences may involve a grouping of 2, 5, or even 10 units, but the majority will transition towards a basic one-hour learning modules. One-hour units will then be combined to form traditional school credits.

7.) Learning Camps

Many kinds of learning camps are already in existence, but we will see an explosive growth in college-based camps oriented around personal experiences. Marine biology is best learned through working with marine life in all its many forms. The best way to learn history is to travel to the battlefields, take tours of the castles, walk through the ancient ruins, dress up in the ancient clothing, and sleep overnight in our ancestor’s dwellings. The best way to become a plumber is to work with a skilled plumber and perform hands-on work fixing real world problems. Learning camps, ranging from one-day camps to multi-week camps, will begin to proliferate around specific topics. Some camps will be more academic-related areas of study such as math and science, while others will deal with more skill-related topics like woodworking or auto repair. Each camp will have its own identity, use its own in-house experts, and will focus on a specific learning experience.

8.) An Era of Constant Experimentation

In the end, our education systems will need to enter an era of constant experimentation. The steady shifting of technologies, attitudes, and lifestyles demand a symbiotic relationship be formed between schools and their students. And this will never be a static relationship.

Final Thoughts

“Over the next century, three countries will emerge to rival the power of the U.S. – Japan, Poland, and Turkey” — George Friedman, Author of The Next 100 Years

I’m not sure Friedman did any favors for Turkey by making this proclamation, putting them into the global spotlight, setting them up for constant scrutiny.

However, the country of Turkey is well-positioned to become a major player on the world stage. They exist as a vibrant economic hub uniquely positioned with one foot in Europe, one foot in the Middle East, and a third foot in Asia. As a people, they are a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic with an ancient cultural heritage.

The first steps they will need to take to signal a rebirth of Turkish education will begin with a diffusion of central power followed by new strategies for checks and balances with real-time monitoring without real-time scrutiny. They will also need to look at new funding approaches that yield a more equitable distribution of resources between the big cities and rural communities.

And most importantly, they will need to create a culture that encourages crazy ideas and innovative approaches. We learn much from our failures, but nothing if we don’t try.

By Futurist Thomas Frey

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Below are a few more photos of our journey in and around Ankara, Turkey

Great overview of Old Ankara


Students at the Education Fair pitching their startup ideas


More students at the Education Fair pitching their product ideas


Preschool kids working closely with their teacher


Ahmet Eti, the impressive CEO of Sebit LLC, primary sponsor of
International Education Forum II: “Innovation in Education”


Founder of the “Hole in the Wall” Foundation – Dr. Sugata Mitra,
presenting at the International Education Forum II: “Innovation in Education”


Deb and our Host from TED, Gozde Ozturk


Walking through the playground with Maya School Headmaster, Levent Okut


Jerry Self from 21st Century Schools meeting the students at Suleyman Uyar public school


Impressive student artwork lines all of the walls at Ankara College


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything.