Human tower : innovation in education at its best


A castell is a human tower built traditionally during city festivals in Catalonia.

A casteller is a member of this human tower. Being a casteller is not only being part of one of the “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of community” recognized by UNESCO. It is also being part of one of the most ambitious and innovative educational projects of all times.
Human Tower in Barcelona (Sants) - video

Human Tower : Castellers in Barcelona (Sants) – see the video below

Human Tower in Barcelona


- a community based project involving people of the same district and creating new links between people
- a participatory project where each member of the human tower has an essential role that doesn’t depend on social status or economic power
- an intergenerational project involving three generations from 6 years old to 65 years old
- an interdisciplinary project involving expertise from different fields : physics, architecture to build the most solid and daring tower
- a project based on mutual trust: if one fails, everyone fails and my fate depends on others’ shoulders
- a team building project based on the cohesion of a “pack” of one hundred persons
- a project that fosters children’s autonomy and sense of entrepreneurship letting them taking risks with the consent and support of committed adults
- a project that contributes to the preservation of cultural heritage based on oral transmission
- a project that transforms a public place in an innovative learning space
In summary, a “castell” is an educational project where human spirit is in fact the most advanced technology!


“God bless your pencil and give you success in life”

Samuel’s father – a young Kenyan portrayed in Pascal Plisson documentary “On the Way to School” (see my blog) – says it all: do we need technology in the classroom or a pencil is enough?

A group of french teachers launched a movement against digital devices in schools: “appel de Beauchastel contre l’école numérique” available in a digital format (!) here

appel de Beauchastel

Beyond the usual rethoric against commodification of education and the Silicon Valley duplicity promoting technology in the classroom while sending their kids to non digital schools (see my blog), these teachers refuse to be simple intermediaries between students and their devices.

similar movement started in the UK a couple of years ago. In a letter (paywall) to The Times, 198 academics and children’s authors accused the new national education policies “of taking enormous risk with the quality of children’s lives and learning”.

What these teachers don’t say is that technology will never be the solution if it is not accompanied by a change in pedagogy.

In 2015, an OECD report concluded that “school systems need to find more effective ways to integrate | technology into teaching and learning  to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world”. In other words, a tablet won’t solve it all (but a tablet is not useless). Another OECD report takes the debate a step further introducing the need for students to work independently, co-operatively and in projects with little teacher intervention. Would our French teachers accept to let students lead the learning process?

It is one thing to believe that technology can make learning more effective in certain conditions but it is another to believe that putting computers in the hands of all students can make all schools more effective. Examples abound in favour or against the role of digital.

The Bolton school – Essa Academy – became the first in Britain to buy touchscreen devices for all its students and went from being a failing school to be judged ‘good’ by Ofsted and a reference on how to teach with technology. On the contrary a report, based on research in 17 US states with online charter schools, has found “significantly weaker academic performance” in maths and reading in these virtual schools compared with the conventional school system.

Teachers are the cornerstone of change in education. We need more innovative teachers (let’s have a look again at an inspiring portrait of a young teacher who wants to change his class… and the world. Let’s go back to Frank Damour’s article entitled “Comment Internet m’a ré-appris pourquoi j’enseigne”.

Education will be better off with the committed children in the center and the committed teachers not left aside (especially on their own initiative!).

At the end of the day, one must decide whether education needs more plaintive letters or more innovative practices?

Anywhere, everywhere

The famous tryptic: “anyone, anywhere, anytime” is often used to characterize the changes in the learning process. Innovative learning experiences will get rid of the constraints of space and time and be much more inclusive and personalized.

The education systems are mostly defined by their learning spaces. Schools all over the world still reproduce the teacher-students top down relationship and are directly produced by an industrial approach to education. Ken Robinson gives three of these industrial principles— conformity, compliance and linearity – that still define our learning spaces. Our universities’ amphitheaters tell the same story of unilateral and linear relationship under which a teacher tells the truth to a large group of often passive students.

A literature review on classrooms’ design made at Princeton University concluded that “the traditional transference model of education, in which a professor delivers information to students, is no longer effective at preparing engaged 21st-century citizens. This model is being replaced by constructivist educational pedagogy that emphasizes the role students play in making connections and developing ideas, solutions, and questions”.

Our new schools, our new universities will be characterized by the design of new learning spaces. Part of the problem we are facing with this new situation is that new spaces are not always made by those with recent experience of teaching or studying in classrooms. Architects and promotors have not fully realized that learning ultimately belongs to learners (and teachers). In a recent work done for one of the leading French universities, I addressed the need for new learning spaces as part of a global reflection on the future of learning and teaching. It takes a lot of effort and imagination to go beyond the clichés that characterize the “digital era”. Which are the genuine expectations of both learners and teachers? How can they overcome the dictatorship of spaces? Even though we are clear about the need to change our learning and teaching practices, we are still thinking in terms of traditional spaces. Even though our classrooms or amphitheaters will be smaller or more flexible, they will still be there.

Can’t we think learning and teaching without thinking of classrooms (large or small)? If a learning experience can take place anywhere, why should we bother about the space? Shouldn’t we insist more on the capacities and skills required by our students – and teachers – to recognize any space as a potential learning space?

In her book on learning spaces, Diana G. Oblinger reminds us thatthere is value from bumping into someone and having a casual conversation, there is value from hands-on, active learning as well as from discussion and reflection, there is value in being able to receive immediate support when needed…”

Conversation in a park (probably Gainsborough and his wife), Gainsborough Thomas (1727-1788) Location : Paris, Louvre museum © RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Conversation in a park (probably Gainsborough and his wife), Gainsborough Thomas (1727-1788)
Location : Paris, Louvre museum
© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Bumping into someone can take place anywhere. Learning is no longer or not only about technology. Learning has to do with the way we occupy the space, with the way we live together, we engage into conversation together.

Innovative learning has something to do with casual learning, transforming any space in a learning space: a waiting room at a doctor’s practice that creates new opportunities for patients to exchange and learn from peers, a fast food restaurant where wifi connection enables customers to take an online course, a park…

In a park or in a fast food… Anywehere. Everywhere…

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