Four years ago I entered a phase of life many people are familiar with. It was a phase fraught with indecision, existential crises, involuntary and unexpected panic, yet littered with moments of uncontainable joy and excitement. That year of my life was also known as senior year of college. I was, and still am I hope, an unrelentless optimist; sure that the world is full of untapped potential in every human being. I blame my semi-delusional outlook on life on my obsession with TEDTalks. If you aren’t familiar with them, TED is an organization dedicated to spreading knowledge and information through short inspirational talks, beginning in the realms of Technology, Entertainment and Design, but now covering almost every topic you could think of. It was four years ago that I came across the 2010 TEDTalk by Sugata Mitra titled “The child-driven education”. Watch his TEDTalk from 2010 here! At the time I remember thinking how intriguing the idea was. Education based around the learner, usurping the traditional style of school with a technology based and child driven form of learning. I was skeptical, interested, and way too concerned with the business of actually passing my classes and getting my bachelors degree to pursue the thought any further.
Fast forward to one year ago and I found myself living in Haiti. I was learning from this simultaneously fascinating and devastating country and considering the idea of graduate school. Having worked in the nonprofit world for more than two years I was itching to learn more about the world of development. To interact with people who I believed had done development well and from whom I could learn. It wasn’t the first time that I had thought back to Dr. Mitra’s TEDTalk, or the hundreds of other education related talks that I’d listened to over the years. However, this time, with my senior year panic mode well behind me, I delved into the studies and research of Dr. Mitra. I read his book, books written by his colleagues, studies I thought were interesting, development literature and article after article. Eventually the trail led me to Newcastle University and their International Development & Education Masters program.
The program itself intrigued me because the professors on the course were also active researchers in this new emerging field around education pertaining to low cost private schools. They are passionate individuals who believe that around the world in developing countries, parents who are unsatisfied with the level of education being offered to them through their government schools have, and are continuing, to do something about it. These communities in developing countries have determined that education is a priority and that it must be done well. Where the government schools have been lacking, the private schools have emerged. Couple that with the intriguing new findings of Dr. Mitra’s research and the idea of using technology as a primary resource in teaching children and I was hooked.
My program is focused on looking at what education should look like, what it will look like in the future, and what this could mean for the role of governments, NGOs, and the private sector in education. I’m grateful for that tumultuous senior year, for my discovery of TEDTalks, and for my tendency toward optimism, it has gotten me to this program, to Newcastle and I hope that with this degree I will continue to find untapped potential in people for the rest of my life.