A sandbox.

I am currently involved in a couple of projects which I’d consider being sandbox projects. Not sandbox in a way that these projects aren’t mature or professional. No. When I say sandbox I mean it in it’s very original way.

You set-up a wooden frame, put sand in it – and make it accessible.
You don’t define any outcome, it’s an open process.
No projects are pre-defined.
You just provide and facilitate the set-up.
And let the things which are going to happen emerge.
Maybe you adjust a bit here and here.
Some little nudges at the frameset … But that’s it.


Maybe an expression which comes close to it is Tim o’Reilly’s usage of the word platform. When Tim speaks about government as a platform he is e.g. talking about open data provided by the government – free of use for anyone. Citizen, companies, institutions – everyone can use the data the way they want it and the way they need it – within a clearly defined frame (legal, technical, economical, social). This way government doesn’t have to think about all the thousands and thousands of possibilities the data could be used – it simply will be used when there is a problem for which it provides a solution. This way government fosters innovation and participation. It enables others to built on government’s work and by doing so its impact is multiplied. Things emerge. Just like inside a sandbox.

Besides the sandbox that I’ve created by my own – Janwar Castle, the first learning camp with a skateboarding park in its core in rural India – I am working on three completely different sandbox projects. One is an open data project in Delhi, aiming to set-up an open data platform which provides realiable data about the air quality in India’s capital. It’s said that it is among the worst in the world, if not the worst. It’s planned as a joint venture of citizenery, companies (Indian and Chinese – and this before Modi went there;-) and government. The data will be provided for free and anyone is invited to make the best out of it – whether it is to build applications, to change habits or whether it is to pass appropriate laws.

The second one is Mindkiss – a different way to present and deal with art. I’ve just written about it here. It’s basically a new modell for art and culture – an open process during which certain projects evolve.

And the third one is the sandbox Kumbhathon – one of my favourites;-) I’ve been following this endevour since its beginning at inkTALKS in Kochin two and a half years ago and I participated actively in the last workshop held in Nashik in January 2015. I was mentoring the students. For me this is a very interesting platform for many reasons:

  • It aims to find solutions for a real world problem: How to handle a city and deal with the issue that 30 million people come in.
  • It brings together various stakeholders: city officilas, companies (local and multi-nationals), external institutions, citizens and students from all over India.
  • It’s an open process within a given frame.
  • The MIT Media Lab brings in new methods to innovate and to co-create solutions.

In this sense the Kumbhathon is truly a sandbox out of which many things will emerge. We’ve already seen new applications and products solving Kumha Mela problems (housing, mapping, infrastructure); I am sure we will see more. The people involved are embracing this new way of solution finding – so it will last and stay in Nashik. Meaning there is an impact on this level as well. And – for me the most important thing – the locals and more than anyone else the local youth has understood, that they themselves can deal and handle the upcoming problems and provide adequate solutions. The process so far was all about enabling, encouraging and co-creating for Kumbha Mela.

As a long term outcome I expect this process to become a role model for an innovation center with multiple  stakeholders committed to solve social problems. So it’s not so much about running very specific projects; it is much more about how to drive innovation and how to find solutions for existing problems in a collaborative way.

And it makes me very happy and shows a lot of respect for our work in Panna that Ramesh Raskar, one of the initiators of the Kumbhathon and professor at the MIT Media Lab asked me to set-up a “little Panna-Park” (a small Janwar Castle) during Kumbha Mela.

So there are many reasons to look forward to the next Kumbhathon gathering in late June/ early July in Nashik!

Keep on pushing ;-)

In my blog post “From Ideas into Action” I wrote about the work I did with the students at the Sharif Education Complex during my stay in Lahore, Pakistan. Today is the teacher’s turn;-)

In various Q&A sessions with the teachers we discussed the following we_school principles:

  • Celebrate Diversity!
  • Learning over education
  • Student-centered learning
  • Solution-based Learning
  • Prototyping and Entrepreneurial thinking within the curriculum
  • The “Art of letting go”
  • Where do the kids learn?
  • Integration of community work within the curriculum

And the big final was a 3 hour open space with the goal to find ideas for implementing “new ways of teaching and learning” tomorrow. I was told that most of the teachers were familiar with the method – however many of them acted very shy. Only 9 of them stepped forward to propose a project.

Maybe it was because we called them in on a holiday;-)

But the results are very promising and the teachers were very engaged when I walked around in the groups. Together with their principal Zarin Shoaib the teachers will follow up on these outcomes:

  • Additional learning and working material besides the regular textbooks
  • Project Based Learning
  • Create “departments” for the various disciplines >>> English department, art department, math department … >>> this way the students can move on in the disciplines they are good at and “remain” in those in which they are not performing well
  • Kids teaching kids
  • How to motivate students better
  • How to improve working in groups
  • Concept based learning
  • Activity-based curriculum
  • Mydah’s project >>> fostering imagination

The next step will be to write a proposal what exactly is meant by these ideas and how they can  be translated into daily life.


Access to and Quality of Education as well as Lifelong Learning …

… are the three fields WISE is focusing on in the near future, says Stavros N. Yiannouka, CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). Besides this content driven approach he is planning to position WISE as a mediator for education through the entire year – connecting governments, private and institutional funds with hands-on projects.

In this interview Stavros describes why change within the worldwide education systems is needed and he also gives examples from all over the world how to drive this change. Finnland is certainly an interesting country to look at when it comes to learn how to “ex-change” and replace an entire existing system.

From Ideas into Action

I spent a week at the Sharif Education Complex a bit outside of Lahore. On the campus there is a hospital, a medical college and 5 different schools with 1700 students. One hundred of the boys also live there in a hostel. The schools are led by Zarin Shoaib, who invited me to come.

Our goal was to come up with ideas and design projects to bridge the gap between the communities the students are living in and their daily life at school. We started out to work with students and teachers together, but it turned out – or I may better say it was my feeling from what I saw – that the students work much more “liberate” without the teachers. So we continued separately and worked on different issues.

I worked in 2 groups with them, each group about 20 kids. We’ve had 3 sessions à 90 minutes. It was quite a challenge for me to get them REALLY interested and not only to pretend being interested. And – probably to no ones surprise – the girls performed much better than the boys. They were much more focused and much more down to the point than the boys. Let’s see how their commitment will remain while I am gone. Before I left we agreed upon to continue virtually via their facebook page.

Here are the projects they came up with and which they would like to turn into practice:

  • Clean water
  • Citizen Rights – facebook awareness campaign
  • Educate your maid!
  • Fight illiteracy – Build a library!
  • Plant a tree!
  • Trash into colored dust bins!

By next Wednesday they were asked to send in a one pager where they explain how they plan to kick off their projects and with whom they want to cooperate in the community.

Can’t wait to see the projects going …

“You can`t escape …

… in India, you are forced to deal with it!” says Lakshmi Pratury in our conversation about India. She gives some very helpful and interesting insights on how to deal with India and how India can continue to grow.

From what I have experienced during the last year – I feel there is a lot of truth in her words.

Lakshmi is host and curator of the INKtalks.

Parts of this interview will be published in the next issue of we-magazine: we_India!

Learning by Playing

Last week Egon, my co-founder at we_school, and I visited Béa Beste, founding partner at tollabox.de, a Berlin based start-up. toolabox – a subscription model – surprises every month children (3-8 years old) and their parents. The basic idea: learning can or should be fun;-) It’s all about creativity, imagination, play, exploration and collaboration. A tollabox is always focussed on one specific theme and usually includes games, tolla stories, various materials to build something and additional learning materials regarding the topic. The team around Béa Beste delivered the first box in October 2012 – and they are still nudging here and there to optimize!

The learning concept behind it is Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences. At tollabox these intelligences are “translated” into four characters: Nao, Kess, LumLum und Pi.

We at we_school are proud owners of 3 tollaboxes and we are looking forward to unfold them in February in India!
tollabox.de – learning by playing – we’ve only just begun;-)

“I can” – Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India

Kiran Bir Sethi founded Riverside School in 2001. Riverside is the amalgamation of an approach to learning that is embedded in common sense and a vibrant research centre for school education. There, insights from cutting-edge research are turned into working models of pedagogical practices with a single-minded focus – student well being. Over the last 11 years, Riverside has developed, implemented and shared a unique curriculum that is proving to be the benchmark for providing a no-compromise school education of the highest quality.

In the following interview Kiran tells the story of Riverside – which is her personal story as well.

What I liked best was the open and “light” architecture. Riverside is truly a space where it can be fun to learn. The environment is right for the kids to grow.

A Far Cry: Scaling Good Education in India

Charly Adler, an American educator with great experience in Big Picture Schools spent the last few month in India. His plan was to work as the principal at Riverside School – but for some reasons this didn’t work out. During our visit to Riverside we had the chance to talk to him.

He makes some very interesting remarks comparing education in India and America and struggles while defining a strategy how to scale good education in India.