Dear Mirror Networkers,
Dear Mirror Networkers,
Dear Mirror Networkers,
I first discovered Argentina last June when I got invited to speak at the Youth Innovation Festival in Buenos Aires. I used to say that if and when I visited Latin America I would most certainly stay there. Well, I can now confirm that Argentina has this effect on people. It is not only the fantastic meat, the tango, the immensity; it is something more, deeply rooted in the Argentinian culture that makes you want to be a part of it.
Argentinians always put a « re » in front of their adjectives to emphasize them. Emphasis suits the country very well; nothing there is mediocre. Argentina was the leader of Latin America for decades thanks to its agriculture and dynamic exportations. At that time, they implemented a large public educational system – from primary school to university – that has done a great job until the past twenty years. The state of education in Argentina appears to be very correlated with its economy. It flourished and then started to fail ending up in an important crisis.
Today, Argentina has to face many challenges. First of all, teachers are poorly and randomly trained in many centers all over the country created to provide a professional future to citizens in rural areas, as they were cheaper to develop than any other type of academic institutions. In Argentina, almost anybody can become a teacher; you just need to apply and then to add up points – if you have a degree for example –. Following these simple steps and without any evaluation, you will most likely get a position somewhere where teachers are lacking. Of course there are some specific educational sciences university tracks but generally, almost no teacher knows about pedagogy. In some areas, not only will they accept anybody as a teacher but they will even ask some of them to serve more then 10 schools at a time, they are called “taxi-teachers”.
Secondly, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the school administration. Indeed, only teachers can become principals and take administrative charges after years of practice and by adding more points. Nevertheless, despite their merit, they will never receive any kind of training on how to manage a school from its finances to its human resources. Many schools therefore end up failing their communities because of poor management.
The Argentinian educational system did not become decadent only because of the schools; it takes more than that. The other main issue resides in the lack of motivation and trust from the people. Very few Argentinian families still value education as a great way to move forward in life and in society. The number of adults without their graduation diploma is unbelievable and usually the rule is not to finish school. If and when they do, they hardly ever chose engineering careers and alike demanding paths, which is deplored massively by corporate, academic and public leaders. At the same time, Argentina both welcomes many under-qualified workers and loses well-trained brains fleeing abroad. This process results in an under-developed and empowered workforce damaging the country’s chances of success and innovation.
Finally, politicians have a clear view on all these issues but yet not all of them seem concerned by the situation. Corruption is important and populists discourses too.
The situation appears to be stuck, and yet, Argentina is always and will always be full of surprises and well-deserved pride.
Despite the visible decline and increasing poverty rates, one can feel the exciting new beginning carried by some very innovative and talented individuals and organizations busy waking up their country. Entrepreneurship in Argentina today is the new grail. Many start ups, incubators, investors, public programs, are pushing forward new ways to learn and work. This dynamic ecosystem tackles Argentinian educational issues one by one: Acamica and Wizzboo are two digital platforms facilitating e-learning around entrepreneurial skills; Kuepa is also a website that builds on the “bachilleratos populares” these courses opened for everyone in ancient factories where all teachers are volunteers and help people graduate from high school; new types of incubators like Incutex also help building the future of education by investing and accompanying closely some of the most promising young enterprises dealing with education such as Netbel which provides efficient management tools to schools; the public sector also can contribute to this awakening efforts as the “BA Emprende” program from the Buenos Aires city government – they designed very specific curriculum for citizens, teachers, students, and communities to embrace entrepreneurship and they wish to empower them to take ownership of their own lives; finally the private sector participates in this exciting process by joining forces in foundations and philanthropic initiatives such as the very dynamic and accurate “Fundacion Cordoba Mejora” which develops a leadership program for school directors with the help of many CEOs and head of businesses from the region.
Argentina is dealing with its issues as a society and it is impressive to see how everyone is taking his or her role seriously. Some want to awake, some want to give away tools, others wish to provide jobs, and all want to move the situation forward building this exciting community of knowledge. Entrepreneurship is not only a campaign theme; it is the core of Argentina’s fierce spirit.
Running in a park of Buenos Aires and thinking about my own enterprise and the Mirror Network trip I realized that I did it, I toured the world. I always thought it would all start in France and end there when in fact the journey started and ended in Argentina. That’s the thing with life adventures; you hardly ever know where they start and where they are going to take you. I have been lucky enough to be invited to share my story at the TEDx Cordoba conference and it has been a pleasure to end the voyage in such agreeable and cheering company.
If you are interested and can speak a little Spanish please check out the video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcZgnvZRQlg
It has been hard to summarize such a trip in a few slides but I understood that it will be very important for me to share the lessons I learned and the conclusions I made only for others to feel capable of starting their own journey. I have been writing a lot about the importance of questions in my previous letters and I maintain that interrogations are the starting point of anything and everything. Argentina is a vivid example: only with questioning the established system can they revamp the country’s educational system. Questions lead to entrepreneurship, and that concerns us all.
Until the next and final letter,
Enjoy the ride and think about your next beginning!
Gera is a Brazilian impact investment firm focusing on education. They identify the most promising entrepreneurs changing the field and participate in their financial success. The company shows an extraordinary expertise in education and therefore is more accurate in its investment strategy.
They do not limit themselves with time constraints and really focus on the business side of things to increase the impact. For all the company they back, they will of course provide investment but not only. The team makes sure that all the members of their portfolio receive the support they need to rightfully connect, better manage and increase their outreach. They invest both in growth equity and in early stage ventures while playing a crucial role in sourcing talent, giving access to the industry knowledge and sharing their managerial expertise.
Over the past decade, impact investment has attracted more and more capital. This investment thesis states that you can place your money wisely and get a high return on your investment while generating a high social impact. In order to participate in this virtuous circle you need to identify dynamic companies targeting the base of the pyramid.
In education, there are now more numerous organization’s trying to solves the problems of the field by creating accessible products for vulnerable populations. The role of an investment firm such as Vox Capital is to help these socio-business to get the money they need to correctly develop and scale up their impact. Any impact investment firm will look for the best balance between financial stability and high social impact, always trying to maximize profitability. When it comes to education, Vox capital invests in companies busy improving the quality of basic education through assistive technologies and management resources, as well as the methods facilitating access to technical schools as they can provide students with an income more quickly.
Investment is key when it comes to develop innovative solutions and the financial sector must be included wisely in the changing dynamics of the educational sector worldwide. Of course, there will always be a risk to see numbers prime over people’s interests but I guess it is a risk to take if we truly aim at changing an international and local reality.
Vox Capital works in this direction and created their Labs to give a chance to small business not developed enough to receive equity investment to be accompanied by an accelerator and to receive a very step by step financial support to develop their activities.
Dear Mirror Networkers,
Brazil was a transformational experience.
I enjoyed the talking walls – all covered by street art and statements -, I felt tiny in the gigantic cities, I samba-ed, I found ways to get meetings with the ever busy Brazilians, I was both shocked and amazed by the contrasted nation. I understood that all great changes come from actual people behind any kind of organization and that scale and prejudice are the enemies of social innovation. I got the feeling to be at a turning point, not only of this trip, but also of my life. How will I make it matter?
That was Brazil’s key lesson: we get to choose what matters.
Brazil intrigued me and I was curious to learn more about certain educational programs such as the democratic schools, CDI and digital literacy or Envisioning and its prospective work. I felt the urge to meet the contrasted giant. It took me some time, and some amazing people, to feel comfortable. Day after day, through fascinating conversations, I discovered the cleavage between the rich and the poor, the incredible natural diversity, the numerous cultures and traditions, the gaps between the state of things and the dreams of many, all of these differences impacting education.
Education is one of the key issues in Brazil as the world could see during the latest protests in June. Degrees are viewed as the main condition to any social uplift. Businessmen understood this a while ago and turned the system into a juicy mass market while he public system deteriorates. Public schools are heavily criticized and every family tries to find the most strategic balance between free education and private schools to make sure their children get into the right university. You can go to public school until the end of middle school, than attend a private high school that will enable you to access the best university program, which is generally public. Welcome to the educational jungle.
Indeed, the public educational system and decadent and corrupted. A local politician was schedule to visit a school so the director made sure that the abandoned school’s garden looked nice overnight by buying salads from the supermarket and placing them on the dry soil. The same happened with computers; about twenty of them were delivered to a classroom for an official visit and taken away right after the media show was over. Some classrooms do not even have roofs… On the other hand, private groups sell education as if it was any kind of regular product and display sales numbers on their corporate websites without really thinking about the humane side of things.
Education in Brazil is a game to play with unfair rules. Racism, poverty, crazy grading system forcing students choose their study path at 15, etc. School incarnates all the contrasts of the Brazilian society and therefore became an amazing playground for true innovation and ground braking change.
Recently, the “descolarizacion movement” has grown bigger with more and more parents taking their children out of school. A self-made doctoral program was just launched a couple of months ago by a dynamic group of university students too disappointed by the gap between their university curriculum and the actual world. For two decades now, democratic schools have been spreading with some iconic models such as Ancora or Politeia. In these schools, children decide what they want to learn, when and how. They work on projects with their peers and adults accompany them as mentors. Students validate all the national objectives but are completely free to build their own very personal learning path. One kid for example who got depressed and qualified as “stupid” in a regular public school now finds himself building a robot that can help him and others learn… Many new players in Brazil pay attention to and encourage such real human empowerment: the Media Education Lab tests creative projects in classrooms, Geekie changes the way educational content is delivered, FazInova shows how everybody can become an entrepreneur of their own lives, Cesar proves that consulting firms can lead social change and make a difference when it comes to the skills’ gap, etc. In Brazil, education is being revamped from the ground. Technology is perceived as a tool and is key when it comes to scale but it is people who take the responsibility to change things, for people. They not only question learning but also the way we work: Laboriosa takes coworking to coliving and House of Works offers a very productive model of destructured project management and alternative team building.
Brazil paves the way of pedagogical innovation not by caring about specifics, as I saw in other countries, but by having a systemic approach and slowly trying and incarnating the concept of learning communities. Many actors interact – NGOs, foundations, investors, companies, civil servants, startups – and are forced to both step back to envisage ways to scale up their proposals, and to take a very close look at how people really consume education as it is somehow a very humane country. This whole process results in an intense and not structured dialogue between the different players that actually enables conversations to move forward to actions. Stakes are big, so is the world. Maybe the Brazilian model could be an amazing lab for us to analyze how change could and should be nurtured and oriented more globally?
The process is organic, business and technology are actively part of it while some make sure they do not become “IT”, the conversation doesn’t exclude public and non-profit partners, human empowerment is central to innovative approaches and they are always systemic, people are considered, but never alone.
The question now lies in the processes and tools to make this whole dynamic function.
Mirror Network, which for now is a flying benchmark and community in construction, could be the perfect place for us all to discuss and suggest new ways for learning communities to develop, grow and function as they appear to be the future of education.
This weekend I enjoyed Rio’s lights, sand, and cocktails. I conversed in epic sceneries and almost reached the sky on top of the Corcovado. We too often forget how happiness is so simple; maybe it works the same way with the educational problems that we are all trying to solve, maybe we should make it simple. Of course it only works when the simplicity is shared!
Off to Buenos Aires now and I will continue exploring Latin America surprising and buzzing learning systems.
From beijos to abrazos,
Dear Mirror Networkers,
August has started off on the East Coast under a beautiful sunshine that has allowed me to enjoy speedy walks from one great meeting to a lifechanging other.
NYC and Boston host some of the most important traditional powerhouses of the United States in business, politics and academia. It has been interesting to see how they now interact to better face the 21st century’ challenges and opportunities.
I was surprised to find such a vibrant EdTech startup scene in NYC and Boston and enjoyed learning more about innovative models such as General Assembly, One Month or Panorama. Should it be alternative courses offline or online to help people develop new skills or new tools improving schools’ culture and processes, many young entrepreneurs – often freshly out of university – are making huge progress in moving the Ed scene forward. They didn’t enjoy their experience as students or couldn’t land their dream job so they took the responsibility to change things. And they are not alone!
It is impressive to see how the business world, academia, the non-profit sector and politics are all closely linked together when it comes to education. In all the places I went to, I have always appreciated the fact that by looking closely at education I ended up learning about the economy, the laws, the way families function, and people’s dreams. Well here on the East Coast, all these different layers come together to actually set up the basis of a learning (r)evolution.
There are more and more cross-interests between the different stakeholders. Some for the best, like when a neurosurgeon from Harvard who also graduated from the Ed School and now works on cognitive sciences, elearning and robotics is asked to give conferences at big companies such as Google, Apple or Salesforce to help them improve their learning systems. Indeed, organizations now know that they must manage their talents carefully – from recruitment to lifelong career development – in order to make the most of their human capital and make sure they motivate and retain their rising stars.
Some partnerships are more complicated. The Teach for America model for example, is promoted worldwide as a game-changing ngo enabling graduates from Ivy League schools to become teachers for 2 years. The goal is to give these future leaders the opportunity to know what is broken in the educational system and to make them want contribute in something afterwards to make things better. But this vision comes with some downsides: these teachers only receive a 5 week training and that somehow discredits the 5 years of studies others go through to become teachers, these teachers are not prepare to interact with others and their Ivy experience doesn’t necessarily contributes to improving school cultures or peer to peer exchange of best practices, these teachers only experience very difficult schools and when they eventually get the possibility to change something they advocate policies based on this biased experience. So as we can see, even though schools, companies, ngos and parties should be talking the setting and aims of the conversations are extremely important.
These examples prove how important the ecosystem is when it comes to changing education. We cannot limit ourselves to the sole classrooms and need to develop a more systemic vision of the sector that will benefit schools’ leaders, teachers, students, parents, entrepreneurs, businesses, researchers, and investors.
I started the Mirror Network to provide all these stakeholders with an accurate big picture of the educational sector for them to make the most of the new opportunities and realize more and more every day now how important it is.
Research needs to nurture investments and strategic planning, investments need to support bold ventures and chances for schools to evolve, ventures need to facilitate online and offline change for educators and learners to get in the know and take part in the public debate as well as get access to interesting careers.
If we manage to set up this virtuous circle we will prove how education can be and must be everyone’s business.
I will keep in mind that:
– investors, and not only the ones looking at impact investment, have a big role to play in the evolution of the sector;
– companies have to move from human resources to human capital and must therefore develop agile and clever learning systems;
– schools often know exactly what kind of tools and reforms they need so they should not only be studied but also listened to;
– the West Coast was right to invest in new frontiers and the East Coast is right to look for the perfect power balance as for innovations to make it they need the right ecosystem.
Let’s all take a step back and realize that education isn’t only an issue, a sector, or a market but a global arena driven by many forces that actually need one another to exist and succeed. So whatever your starting point is, paying attention to the others will only reinforce your chances of reaching your goals.
And hopefully the last posts on mirror-network.com will help you take that enlightening step back!
On my way to Brazil to “dive in scale” and find many occasions to toast with delicious caïpirinhias,
From not so far,
The Media Lab is an incredible but yet discrete place where great minds are envisioning the future of people, of media, of technology, of education, of energy, etc. They not only investigate this future but they design and contribute to build it while sharing their state of the art work and best practices with an international community.
The 25 research groups welcome students and amazing faculty and experts all collaborating in a very antidisciplinary and creative frame. Excellence is a requirement, tryouts and results a must and unconventional a rule.
If you are asking yourself questions you think no one else is thinking of, you might just find a team already exploring adjacent interrogations and testing innovative solutions there. A whole space to actively follow.
Practice based research, many faculty worldwide would find this concept ridiculous and only worship “pure” research.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education is, once again, ahead of its time and created the first Doctorate of Education Leadership. This unique interdisciplinary model offers a curriculum shared with the Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School to a cohort of talented practitioners and provides them with the opportunity to advance the field of education by doing and reflecting on their actions. In three years, participants will increase their level of expertise and strongly enhance their leadership potential while contributing to academic research. Finally a degree acknowledging expertise and experience.
It is most certain that this program will have the next major change-makers among its alumni.
The White House recently launched a new website to help students and their families to have access to more information about college and finances. How much does this college cost, how much you will make after graduating, how is the college doing financially… All the answers are provided on individual college’s score cards. A good effort to increase transparency about college finances but some problems already come up.
There is no information on the colleges besides their finances and we all know that an educational experience is not only about its price. The website completely avoids the quality of the education and the opportunities after graduation. Also, there is no personalization possible so the families from a low income background do not know how to use the information provided and will not work out how to come up with a right financial plan to fund the students’s education.
Rating colleges on their finances does only a very small part of the job. When we think that other alternative ratings deal with the “greenery” of higher ed institutions, it seems that the score card model could be improved.
Here is an article on the topic:
Project Zero was founded by the philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had yet been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name.
Over the years, Project Zero has maintained a strong research agenda in the arts while gradually expanding to include investigations into the nature of intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, and ethics. The organization has conducted dozens of major research initiatives, published over 90 books and hundreds of articles and reports, and collaborated with countless partners. Project Zero’s work takes place nationally and internationally, in a variety of settings; while much of the research occurs in schools, an increasing amount is focused on businesses, cultural organizations such as museums, and online. In addition, Project Zero offers symposia and workshops, most notably the annual summer institutes.