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Fostering Innovation in Schools

I’m no expert in Education but I do think about it a great deal. For instance: Why do some schools turn out successful students while others seem to languish? What’s the ‘key’ tactic to engaging young people? Why are is there such a disparity between facilities in different parts of the world and this country?

Last week on Huffington Post, Tom Vander Ark wrote and article that struck a chord with me because of the work I’m doing at Appfrica Labs. I had no desire to run a school, but I value education a great deal as posts like “10,000 African Hours” should indicate. Tom suggest that there are four main traits he can identify in successful innovators:

Skilled: Innovators almost universally have strong analytical reasoning and communication skills. They can dissect a problem and help others see it more clearly. They understand the value of quality work products-that means a number of people have told them, “No, that’s not good enough.

Curious: more difficult to capture is the sense of curiosity-the kind that causes a deep dive on a subject that others might consider obscure. There’s a forward leaning aspect to this attribute; a wondering about what’s around the corner. There’s joy derived from what Expeditionary Learning would call “the having of wonderful ideas.”

Self directed: innovators have learned to take responsibility for their own learning. Intrinsic rewards are more important than extrinsic (or at least short-term extrinsic rewards).

Persistent: related to the last three, innovators simply work harder than other people. They learn from failure. When bounded by limited time or resources, they find a way to achieve a goal.

I feel like any good educational institution will value and support all of these traits. Last week in Oxford, UK I had the chance to have a few conversations with Fred Swaniker, co-founder of the African Leadership Academy. I really think some of the work they’re doing there is quite brilliant. For instance, to teach their kids about economics, they created a campus currency, bank and ATM system. The students vote in the directors of the bank and can monitor things like inflation and the value of their campus currency in comparison to the Rand and other currencies around the world.

It not only encourages curiosity about economics but it allows for teaching in the best way, through applied knowledge. I believe this type of facility is critical to reforming the education systems of African countries which are often underfunded, over populated, and have trouble breaking out of a traditional ‘Read. Write. Recite.’ method of instruction.

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