Conscious Evolution

I was quite startled to find similarities in an article about Apple’s


attempts to infiltrate the academic world of Duke University and the democratically based educational programs of rural Colombia.  But there they are staring me in the face.

These two articles, one assigned reading for COETAlL and one that serendipitously wound up in my Twitter feed this morning, discuss the same issues in education from incredibly different worlds.  Each of them look for ways to empower students and improve education.  One through the use of technology and one through simply creating active learners.

I think the majority of education is caught somewhere in between.  I think about my own experiences in school and it was a lot of chalk and talk.  I read about international schools through my PLN and its amazing.  Then I look at the conversation in Ghana lately about education and not much has changed.  There’s a big debate about religion within schools here, a whole different conversation, but also about the way students are taught.

This was incredibly evident to me in my own home last night. Our housekeeper’s little brother, Kwame, has become a good friend of my son.


They play together every afternoon and often sit and help each other with their school work.


Last night Kwame asked to use our computer to do some homework. I was elated that he was using technology for school.  However, it turned out that he simply needed to copy the 35 languages of Ghana from a website.  That was it. No identifying where they were spoken, no map creation or comparisons, no thought.  Look it up and copy.

We’ve had many conversations with Kwame about school.  He tells us what they learn and how they use technology. At least two to a computer and sounds like just email and typing.  There’s no critical thinking, its mostly memorisation and his test are simply regurgitating the information that he has been given.  He has even mentioned being afraid to ask to go to the bathroom, not because he might get in trouble, but because he might miss some notes.

Yet in rural Columbia we have students providing teachers with assistance adjusting to their system of learning.  One that supports interaction, working together, independence and critical thinking.  In these schools students are not only being given knowledge, but the tools to be a citizen.  They are learning to question and manage their own futures instead of simply being receptacles to eventually deposit in the streets.

When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. “In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,” Ms. Colbert told me. “It’s daily practice.”

I feel I might have rambled a bit here, so I’ll try to tie it up neat here at the end.

And, before you point it out, I realize one is a distinguished American University and the other just a grade school, though it is a “private” Ghanaian school.  But what a difference! At Duke:

We simply asked students to dream up learning applications for this cool little white device with the adorable earbuds, and we invited them to pitch their ideas to the faculty.

What a fantastic way to develop thinkers and learners.  Here’s a new tool, how will it make your educational experience better?  The article goes on to discuss how interdisciplinary the course was, the leadership roles that students took and even how blogs produced better written work than term papers.  On so many levels it sounds as if some of the same ideas are being incorporated in those rural schools in Colombia, perhaps minus the technology.

The evolution needed here is understanding that collaboration, experiential education and interaction with peers is essential to learning.  Students in each of these articles, unlike those in many of our outdated school systems,  are being given the tools to succeed in a modern world.  One by using the tools and technology of the times, the other by developing the problem solving and critical thinking skills that will allow them to figure out those tools when they become available to them.  In both cases, the common denominator is access to peers, interaction and feedback.  Students across the globe and from kindergarten to graduate school need to be able to see themselves as experts, to inquire, to fail, learn from it, recover and ultimately succeed.

I know the last link is wrong. As a native of NC and a Tarheel, I couldn’t resist taking a shot.



  1. Brandon Hoover says:

    In developing countries, it’s especially evident that the digital divide is alive and well. I think those of us working in international schools see this first hand – especially if we’re out in the provincial / rural areas on experiential trips, service trips, etc. There’s a long hard road ahead for some countries, schools and educators. But as we begin to connect and flatten the world, it’s hopeful that the divide will become increasingly less of a barrier.


  2. Priscila Gutiérrez Schochet says:

    Reading your article reminds me these questions “What kind of teacher do I want to be?”, “Am I using technology in the correct way?”. When schools adapt technology as a tool, it is very important to use it wisely. When I use technology with my students, I am actually thinking this question, “What can they create with this information and these apps/tools?”
    When you talk about developing thinkers and learners I remembered that I usually ask my students which tools they feel more comfortable to work with, this is also a way to make the class more fun and keep them engaged. Also, they have choices (everyone wants to be heard). I don’t think that I am an amazing teacher but this is why I am here reading everyone’s articles and learning to create thinkers and learners.


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