œ Operation Education: een lerende organisatie, volop in beweging – terugblik en vooruitblik

Eind van het jaar, tijd voor reflectie. Een terugblik op 2014 maar eigenlijk een terugblik op de afgelopen 2,5 jaar sinds de start van œ Operation Education. En plannen en voorproefjes: een Education Warehouse, een nationale onderwijsdag, het freedomlab en meer.

Dit vind je in dit blog:

Waarom œ Operation Education begon

œ Operation Education begon in september 2012 met een TED talk van mij. De vele duizenden reacties en interacties die daarop volgden hebben ervoor gezorgd dat het verhaal en œ Operation Education niet meer van mij alleen is – maar van vele duizenden mensen samen. En het gezamenlijke verhaal is dankzij al die ontmoetingen steeds verder verdiept, verbreed, aangescherpt en doorontwikkeld. Maar er is vooral gecreëerd: nieuwe netwerken, boeken, platforms, initiatieven, organisaties, studio’s, samenwerkingsverbanden, inzichten en ga zo maar door.

œ Operation Education wil de beweging, zelfs de transitie, van het onderwijssysteem versnellen. Van een systeem dat in de basis iedereen langs dezelfde lat legt, naar een systeem dat faciliteert dat iedereen tot volle bloei kan komen.

Deze transitie is al jaren bezig en al niet meer te stoppen, maar het gaat nog langzaam. Ik – en al die andere mensen die samen met mij œ Operation Education vormen – wil de transitie versnellen, verbreden en verdiepen. En ik wil dat deze verandering gedragen wordt door de gehele samenleving.

Hoe doe ik dit? Ik doe het samen. Met andere mensen. We verbinden, versterken en maken zichtbaar. We maken voor iedereen zichtbaar wie en wat er is: de mensen, de kennis over leren en ontwikkelen en de goede voorbeelden die bewijzen dat het kan. Daarnaast stellen we fundamentele vragen, vooral over het ‘waarom’: waarom doen we de dingen zoals we ze doen, is dat nog logisch, kan het anders? De meest fundamentele vraag is de meest belangrijke en vormt de basis van alles wat we creëren: wat is het doel van onderwijs?

Er zijn netwerken en organisaties die een soortgelijke visie delen en hetzelfde doel nastreven. Om de beweging daadwerkelijk te versnellen zouden er nog wel tien van dit soort organisaties moeten ontstaan, elk met een eigen DNA, persoonlijkheid, achterban en invulling.

œ Operation Education bouwt infrastructuur om context en voeding te geven aan het verbinden, versterken en zichtbaar maken van al deze netwerken: fysieke infrastructuur, in de vorm van fysieke locaties en netwerken en bijvoorbeeld boeken, en digitale infrastructuur, zoals platforms, intranetten, websites. Continue reading œ Operation Education: een lerende organisatie, volop in beweging – terugblik en vooruitblik

The problem with standardized tests

Just take a look at 10 average job postings and you will see many ‘wanted’ qualities listed. Skills we need to be happy and valuable in society go beyond what we currently learn at school: we need fantastic teamplayers, entrepreneurial attitudes, creative thinkers and doers, fast-paced flexibility, interpersonal sensitivity and cross-cultural awareness in today’s global society – just to name a few. Humans are more complex and have more talent and value than what we currently measure in standardized tests.

Instead, schools are more and more focused on standardized tests, whether or not forced by legislation or other external pressure – for example because schools are ranked “good” or “bad” according to their student’s standardized test results.

Let’s look at a couple of examples from standardized tests that my cousin and several of my friends children were confronted with.

Test 1: Vocabulary test for 5 year old Dutch children, from an official ‘CITO’ standardized test.

The right answer according to CITO is Blue – Cold. But Casper, my cousin, told his mother: “An eskimo builds an iglo because it’s cold outside, but inside it’s relatively warm. That’s why I picked red”.

Test 2:

The right answer according to the test is D, the airplane. But the child of a friend of mine said C (truck): “because it’s the only mode of transport which was not intended to transport passengers”.

Two weeks later, a colleague of mine sent an almost similar one from her child. In Dutch, it says:

Which word does not belong here?

1: train – car – truck – airplane

Source: Marjolein Stromeier via a tweet

Her 8 year old child answered ‘truck’: “it’s the only one which you can’t use to go on holiday.”

In each case, the child gave the ‘wrong’ answer – while everybody can only acknowledge that his or her answer is ‘also good’, even much smarter than what the test sought to be assessing. However, the system tells them they are wrong and are not supposed to think this way. And worse: give them a low score which may even cause smart children to get to the wrong level of education.

After the TED talk, some people suggested that the children should be able to find a suitable reasoning for each answer…

Standardized tests (including IQ tests) only assess a very limited set of skills or qualities. To put it bluntly, they mostly assess your ability to take standardized tests and to give the answer that is expected by the testing authority. They rarely assess your deeper understanding of the subject, or your ability to use the insights for reflection on what this would mean for the future.

Another set of very interesting examples were given by Tanya Khovanova in this blog post, where she described the array of potential answers for the Mensa (IQ) test:

[box] This test is similar to continuing a sequence. How would you continue the sequence 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9? The online database of integer sequences has 1479 different sequences containing this pattern. The next number might be:

  • 10, if this is the sequence of natural numbers;
  • 1, if this is the sequence of the digital sums of natural numbers;
  • 11, if this the sequence of palindromes;
  • 0, if this is the sequence of digital products of natural numbers;
  • 13, if this is the sequence of numbers such that 2 to their powers doesn’t contain 0;
  • 153, if this is the sequence of numbers that are sums of fixed powers of their digits;
  • 22, if this is the sequence of numbers for which the sum of digits equals the product of digits;
  • or any number you want.[/box]

[box] She also describes another sequence: What is the odd object out in this list?

Cow, hen, pig, sheep.

The standard answer is supposed to be hen, as it is the only bird. But that is not the only possible correct answer. For example, pig is the only one whose meat is not kosher. And, look, sheep has five letters while the rest have three. In the comments on her blog post, contributors have been indicating a ‘right’ answer for every word in the sequence. Worthwhile reading![/box]

In the end of her post, Tanya writes: “it bugs me that I might not have been creative enough to fail their test”…

With our society putting more and more emphasis on standardized tests (because a high score brings you to a higher level on the status ladder), many children now spend a lot of time rehearsing tests. Valuable time which could also be spent on developing skills which may be much more useful in later life.

Do you have more crazy and funny examples of standardized tests? Please share them underneath in the comments!

Moulding people into a system

The school system assumes that everybody learns in the same way, in the same rhythm, everything at the same moment in time.

We find it completely normal that every child learns to walk at a different age – my daughter needed almost double (!!) the time to learn to walk compared to my son. We also know that the age on which they learn to walk (9 or 18 months) doesn’t say anything about their performance (in for example sports) in later life. But at school, we still ask children to all learn at the same speed in classes which are horizontally organized, even if we know for a fact that everybody has their own rhythm and learning style.

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etcetera. It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons. Read more about this concern and an example in this blog post.

Schools kill creativity. This is the punchline of the most watched (and highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet) TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Children are born with a lot of creativity but our school system moulds all the creativity out of them. Watch his talk over here:


A popular diagram shows that at age 40, all creativity is knocked out of an average human being. Where are you on this diagram?

Source: George Land and Beth Jarman


The moulding continues after school

Also in after-school life, we continue to mould people into something they are not. In my TED talk, I shared my experience with the ‘personal development plan’ at Unilever. In order to get higher up into the management hierarchy (the only way to achieve more status), you have to develop your management skills. These have been defined as a set of skills on which you are supposed to score ‘good’, but not ‘too extreme’.

My profile instead was pretty extreme – my ‘passion and energy’ (A) went way beyond all boundaries, causing me to act like a ‘jumping puppy’. What I was lacking was (E) control and structure. Instead of focusing on my strengths and how Unilever could benefit from these, I had to cut back on what I was really good at and work hard on my so-called ‘development points’. So basically I had to try to become somebody else. And despite all the talk about diversity, the corporate system basically creates average people.

A worrying amount of people around me confess that they are not really happy. They have a high level on the status ladder: a “good” job (eg high up in the management hierarchy), partner plus well-behaved children, big car, beautiful house. Despite all this, they are finding they are lacking ‘something’ – I think it might be ‘value’. But they don’t dare to get out anymore: “I have a high mortgage, all my life is set up according to my high salary; I can’t just quit”…

Do you have similar experiences? Did you also find yourself, or people around you, trapped on the status ladder? What did you/ they do? Please share in the comments!

CONNECT: part 1 of the Action Plan

The massive amount of reactions on my TED talk showed me three things:

  • Wow, so much is already happening/ done/ figured out – this needs to be shared.
  • I can’t be the only one who is interested but unaware of all these initiatives.
  • To really make an impact, we need to join forces. A very big movement is necessary.

We need to get together, share what works and discuss how to overcome barriers. Each one of us can create a ripple effect, all of us together create a Tsunami.

I would like to propose three form factors:

  1. Offline (face to face, events)
  2. Online (web environment)
  3. Informal – (bi-)weekly gatherings

Please click the links to find more details about the plans.

SHAPE: part 2 of the Action Plan

I firmly believe that we should look at value, defined by how happy you are (because you do things that matter to you) and how much you contribute to society (including your own family or friends) – making use of your own strengths and talents.

What if we could let go of everything education is about right now, if we could start anew:

  • What are the skills and knowledge needed in the world of today and tomorrow? What would children need to learn (until age 18)? [Is it ‘advanced maths’, or rather ‘learn to develop your own path’, ‘learn to become valuable – economically & socially, and get more out of yourself than you’d ever imagine’?]
  • How can they best learn [based on their specific needs, talents, learning styles]?
  • What is needed to facilitate this? [what technology, what kind of facilitators or teachers, buildings etc]
  • How can this be scaled, so that everybody has access to (this new type of) Education?
  • How can it be financed? [Are subsidies needed, or can it be viable on its own? Can 3rd parties provide a solution?]
  • How can it be quickly implemented/ rolled out? [Do national governments need to approve, which can take years, or can it be done differently?]
  • How can quality be assured? [Do we need standardized tests, can you assess differently? Is this still necessary, do the results speak for itself?]

I want to create a ‘charter’ from this, a 1- or 2-pager with starting points. These will become my ‘stick in the ground’, my compass direction for the coming years. It will also help to concentrate all the energy and initiatives – if we all look at the same thing and are not distracted by semantics, we can make this bigger and bigger. It also helps to spread the message if it is clear, compact and achievable.

I will ask the questions above to several people and groups around me, curious to see if these views will differ or not.

Please also share your own thoughts, in the comments below, by mail, through Facebook, Twitter or any other channel that suits you.