Our Education System Was Built for a World that No Longer Exists

I was on Twitter earlier this week when the following tweet from Nick DeNardis (via Karine Joly) got my attention:

I spent the next 15 minutes watching a very compelling TEDxNYEd Talk by Will Richardson. I have watched dozens of TED Talks and while they are all great, this one is now my personal favorite. If you work in education, if you have kids, or if you are simply concerned about our future, you must watch this video:

Will had me at the first chord (literally). I loved the opening story of his daughter learning to play “Don’t Stop Believing” on the piano. That was me back in the early ’70’s when I was told I couldn’t learn how to play “Joy to the World” by an old-school piano teacher. I ultimately gave up piano lessons, I decision I regret to this day. If only I had an iPad and the Internet back then. Who knows where my musical career would have gone, especially since music was something I was very passionate about.

While some people viewing this video will focus on the question of “testing”, for me the larger picture is what matters here. Yes – our education system was built for a world that no longer exists. As one of my favorite quotes goes: “The question isn’t if there should be laptops in lecture halls, the question is if there should be lecture halls in universities.”

Memorable quotes from this talk include:

  • This is the coolest moment to be a learner. Our kids can learn whatever they want, whenever they want and this is a big shift that as educators we need to begin to understand.
  • With their phone, they will have access to 2 billion potential teachers and the sum of human knowledge in their pocket.
  • The hard truth – schools in the form that they were constructed are no longer relevant to our kids lives in terms of places to get information and knowledge.
  • Do we really want our kids being prepared for their future by a system that hasn’t fundamentally changed in 125 years?
  • It’s time to stop trying to do school better. We need to start doing them differently

I will close this post as Will closed his talk – with a quote from Eric Hoffer:

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.



  1. Yes indeed…..mixing test prep with learning is killing all imagination….essential to separate them. Very correctly suggested that the schools should be activity centres and learning should be independent of locational parameters. Let the kids fly!!

  2. John Dewey said it best: “If we teach today’s students the way we taught them yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.”

    Thanks for the share, just added to Boxee so I can re-watch on the big screen with my kids.

  3. The thing that schools need to teach is competence. Tests do not teach competence. But neither do Google searches or wikipedia (even though both are great at what they do).

    The current (NCLB) system emphasises testing. As far as i can tell, it was discovered that a teacher’s own education credentials don’t correlate well with student outcomes. Testing teacher’s knowledge doesn’t correlate well with student outcomes. So, the new idea is to test the students. If testing teachers doesn’t work to get their competence, why should testing students work?

    There are tons of teaching techniques that have been proven in pilot studies. But they’re not implemented. What we need is a series of ideas that are tested in pilots. The cost effectiveness needs to be evaluated. The cost effective solutions should be promoted to wider studies. We’d very quickly lead the world in education.

    What we’re doing now is cutting vocational education for cost reasons. But vocational education is among the most effective. We’ve let politics, not reason, govern education direction.

  4. Interesting comments with much truth to them. However, the ideas are not well tempered or balanced. As a human society we must share common goals that require some level of coordination amongst ourselves. Learning rock songs on the piano and how to make videos (been going on for many years now, even before the smart phone) is great, but how about engineering, math, social science, business, technology, medicine, and so forth? Is our learning to be haphazard and arbitrary? Not likely, even if research agendas make it seem so.

    Also of note is presentations like this are quite common where an evangelist preaches about re-engineering education, not incrementally changing it. That’s great, but I have noticed in these presentations that the speakers never follow their ideas through with an action plan. Or if they do, it is so general that it’s like wishing upon a star.

    In summary, education for education’s sake will always have a significant place in our world and new technologies certainly bolster it. But remember that one of the most significnat activities of education is to develop learning objectives, something that even the examples in the speaker’s comments reinforce (whether he was aware or not). Learning must lead to something specific and always does, even if we don’t realize it. As a human society, we still need some level of planning together and as the younger generations mature they too will realize this. Teacher strikes and large class sizes are economic issues, not the result of needing to abolish educational (curriculum) planning and direction.

    Mark Atkinson


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