Meet the world’s best minds

“Meet the world’s best minds”

This last pandemic year has made it clear that we urgently need reliable views on the world we inhabit to make it a world we want to live in.

Those who spend their lives delving into science, history, political thought, the ways of society, art and literature are well placed to help us here, as well as to spark the excitement of acquiring knowledge, the pleasures of curiosity, and of broadening our scope.

At the beginning of the first lockdown, the EXPeditions team packed masks and gloves, a camera, a mic, a light rig, a set of questions, and set out to connect with more than 150 leading thinkers, scholars, researchers, and scientists in the top universities in the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and India.

They engaged in accessible conversations to create an experience that is enjoyable, intense and resonates with the challenges of our daily lives.

We turned these conversations into the videos we call EXPs. These can be explored and enjoyed for free on the website.

We feel it’s extraordinary in this last difficult year to have gathered so much scintillating ‘knowledge’, so many ideas across a diversity of fields, in one easy-to-access space and we are hugely grateful for the time and energy our authors have put into EXPeditions.

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Our current catalogue of 500 EXPs contends with climate change from multiple perspectives, with globalisation and economic growth, citizenship, cities, democracy and politics, colonialism, history, the emotions and nervous states, biology and genetics, medicine, AI, individual and collective identity, feminism, race, the classics, art, philosophy, literature, war, the Holocaust and more.

Knowledge, reliable thinking, ideas that are passionate – these are all priceless. From here on in, they are also available to you all – with no admission fee.

We can all begin to think with the best. It’s important and enlivening to do so. And pleasurable.

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”

As we are immersed in the COVID-19 crisis, we realize that education remains more than ever the art of posing the right questions.

Let me compare education to bricolage.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”. Since the beginning of this major crisis, teachers have learned to take risks, change their practices and innovate in the classroom.

A lot has been written about teachers’ (lack of) motivation before this crisis. For a moment, we believed that all this was about using the right technology. But learning is not about technology. More than ever, learning has to do with the way we we live together, we engage into conversation together.

This echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before. When schools reopen, it will be up to the whole education community to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.


Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

Nicolo di Pietro, The Saint Augustine Taken to School by Saint Monica, Pinacoteca Vatican

What did we learn during the past two months? A lot of questions came to our mind: How to continue teaching “as before”? How to do it without a physical place common to the teacher and his students but with the same protagonists? How to respond to an exceptional situation with the same quality? With what skills, what training, what goals?

Physical space had disappeared; Students came back home; Heads of schools had become invisible; Parents had become more visible; Time had lengthened: the day no longer had clear boundaries between work and leisure.

But the teacher remains the only one in charge of his class; Classroom assistance remains mandatory; All children have the right to be in class; A class has a schedule; Class hours allow children to acquire knowledge and skills by following a well established curriculum

We also know that schools are very difficult to substitute as a physical space.


Reality is stubborn.

After 10 weeks of closure, we realize that:

- Schools means also daily basic care

- School closures deepen education inequalities

- Connecting with children outside school is a key problem


The digital revolution was not ready in school.

We certainly have the technical means to turn our schools digital. We can give a distance learning course by videoconference to students staying at home. We can use a virtual class which reproduces the functioning of the class with a shared screen and a chat tool for the pupils.

But none of these solutions has been thought of as a replacement for physical school. In fact, nothing was as ready as we thought. Nothing has ever been thought of on a large scale so that children no longer have to go to school.


Less is more

Today with digital, you have to learn to do less, better, shorter.

Learning does not consist in seeing your students in full screen. Imagine a teacher 50 centimeters away from each of his students, feeling their breath, blowing in their face!

Learning is first and foremost the art of distance, the art of knowing how to use pedagogical supports wisely and to animate the discussion on subjects that require a specific approach and address challenging issues!

In a visioconference, the teacher scrolls through a powerpoint presentation – prepared in advance – by moving from one slide to another according to the time allotted for the lesson. It is therefore an imported pedagogy.

The particularity of a lesson on the contrary is that it is part of a dynamic process. Students need to know more at the end than at the beginning. They all go from point a to point b. We must therefore ensure that this progression takes place.


What should educational continuity look like when there is no school?

  • To a motivated, respected teacher who is capable of animating a distance course in an intuitive way by not reproducing the traditional model of the course “one against many” but of the course “each with everyone”;
  • To mobilized and united families pooling digital resources and educational attention;
  • To children who seize the chance to learn with others in an interactive way;
  • To an education system that accepts to assess differently;
  • To digital solutions that are designed by and with teacher to replicate an innovative educational experience, not a pale copy of a shared workspace specific to companies’ meetings.


The importance of social learning

Learning is nowadays increasingly seen as a mix of formal and informal experiences. What we call “social learning” refers to the degree of interaction between learners of different levels of competence. Learning from the others, learning with the others are fundamental elements of the learning experience and essential for students to get full ownership of what they learn.

But we will all agree that concentration on tasks, quality of dialog between students and teachers, students mental health, are essential indicators to design successful (and pleasant) learning paths.

This is what I call the “Art of interaction” i.e. the capacity of teachers and students to engage into a continuous and granular conversation about learning.


 How do we move forward?

Do you remember Mary Poppins? How many teachers dream to have her magical powers when they face a sleepy classroom at a distance on a gloomy Monday morning!

The success and sustainability of innovative online learning solutions rely on the capacity to engage learners in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed learners means more interactions, more knowledge.

One of teacher’s main challenge is to propose learning experiences that allow genuine student engagement.

In a classroom, the learning process is usually driven by the teacher. The teacher designs the lesson, defines the learning objectives, is in charge of student assessment. Often the result is a top down process that leaves a number of students “off the road”.

There is no magical solution to raise student engagement. Alternative school models haven’t proved significantly more efficient than “traditional” ones. A democratic school for instance where students have an equal say than teachers is no guarantee of student engagement.

The success depends on the degree of ownership that can be gained at the student level, i.e. if they are fully part of the learning process. Participation is a critical point in the classroom daily routine.


Participation in the classroom

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

Fully participatory classrooms are the one that are built in interaction and embed participation whatever the topic, the moment, the setting. The pedagogical concept behind interaction has therefore to be very refined and it has nothing to do with technology.

I will argue that the bricoleur-teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Our teacher-bricoleur knows  the importance of teacher-student relationships, confirmed by John Hattie  to explain student achievement. Classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method, feedback intervention are some of the techniques and tools with the highest probability of success while online and digital tools have among the lowest.

Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.


The role of technology

Far from establishing a distance, digital solutions can help bridge a gap between less and more participatory students, enabling the teacher to dedicate more time to those who need it most.

Far from dissimulating the human side of education, technology helps respond to basic needs, making the teacher a mentor and the student an actor of his own learning.

This is where digital technology should make a difference in the classroom and contribute to:

  • Increase the enjoyment and emotional connection that teachers have with students
  • Enhance peer interactions;
  • Decrease the level of aggressive relationships
  • Prevent misbehaviour in daily routine
  • Ensure maximum time is spent in learning activities
  • Facilitate group activities so that learning opportunities are maximized.
  • Expand participation and learning through feedback to students
  • Improve teachers’ responsiveness to students’ needs;


A few tips for distance learning: Less is more

- Do as usual! Prepare your lesson before giving it on a virutal platform

- Each online lesson should last a maximum of 30’

- Avoid reinventing content

- Do not confuse your learners with an overambitious use of third party tools and services

- Use a regular pattern of communication to help establish a sense of community

- Maintain student attention during content delivery

- Extend the life of a lesson beyond its final assessment

- Set clear and measurable learning outcomes

- Use carefully positioned quizzes to pause your learners and prompt reflection

- Use additional platforms to support your teaching where the central plaform’s functionality falls short

- Encourage learners to engage in authentic tasks

- Direct social dynamics by highlighting selected contributions

- Develop your students as autonomous learners by asking them to continue the work at home

-Use a provocative question to wake up the class and extend a live debate after class in a discussion forum

(adapted from MOOC Design Patterns Project, Warburton and Mor, 2015)


Towards a new school project

Schools won’t be the same after this crisis. A lot has been learned about our limitations and resilience when faced with the urgency to teach and learn.

Students will go back to school but school will have to rethink their project.

I will suggest 10 criteria that could characterize a new school project

1. Innovative learning experience

A school project should foster student’s ability to learn how to learn and develop as a human being.

2. Participatory Method

A school project should recognize the unique capacity of children to engage with essential problems in their community and lead the change by bringing new solutions.

3. Creativity 

A school project should enhance students’ creativity, make them think differently, unveiling their talents and helping each of them to take the best of them.

4. Teacher’s role

A school project need to be designed from the perspective of the teacher rather than using him as a mere instrument for projects that have been designed neither with him nor for him. Teachers should be directly involved in project’s monitoring and evaluation.

5. Knowledge activation

A school project is not so much about the quantity of knowledge it deals with but about the opportunities provided to students to activate knowledge in real-life situations.

6. Digital transformation

Schools must be prepared to operate continously on two dimensions: in the physical space and at a distance. Different strategies must coexist but the main principles of education for all remain.

7. Behaviour change

A school project is a transformation tool enabling behavioral changes on a number of issues. Students as individuals and in groups should be empowered to investigate a problem, design solutions, take actions and evaluate them.

8. Families’ involvement

A school project has to be inclusive and take into account multiple learning spaces, thus strengthening family participation in the learning process. The intergenerational dimension of learning is essential to social and family cohesion.

9. Community impact

A school project should have a transformative, multiplying and long-lasting impact in the surrounding community involving local actors in a shared learning experience.

10. Contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)

A school project should consider all SDGs starting with climate change as a transversal priority for the whole learning process and should directly contribute to the goals’ achievements.


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”. In this time of changes, we realize more than ever that teaching is and remains a two way thing!

Schools’ future has to be designed by all of us.



Learning in 2145

I like Alex Beard very much! And especially the way he looks at education as “work in progress”, his humility and sense of humor when he makes us think about the future of learning.

His last tryptic – a radio series on knowing, teaching and learning – won’t defraud Alex’s fans. Alex is a former teacher, a recognized specialist. But on top of it, he is a believer! He believes in meeting people, talking to them, He believes in the art of conversation. He is not the first one. Back in the fourth century Saint Augustine defined education as “a process of posing problems and seeking answers through conversation”. No doubt Alex will refuse such legacy but any way…

What will happen in 2145? Learners of all age will come together and help one another. A more solidarian and intergenerational education with a mix of AI will enable us to know, love and care each other better. His optimistic and rigorous investigation is released in times of COVID-19 where we need more than ever reasons for hope.

I met Alex for the first time in Sevilla (Spain) where he presented an article on the future of education. He compared education to bricolage and made me thought about the role of technology in our future education system.In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

Alex works at Teach for All and knows better than anyone that teachers are used to “working at a height above the ground” and look like high wire artists walking a tightrope in their attempt to catch their students’ attention. They set up their scaffolds in the classrooms for an academic year, just the time they are given to fix or improve education. Scaffolding is not only another word for teaching. It is also a way of teaching, Psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to  scaffolding as  designing activities that support the students as they are led through the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD).  A learner can finalize the acquisition of a given skill through interaction with a teacher or a skilled peer.

Listening to Alex piece on Teaching, I was wondering: are teachers ready to take risks to change their practices and innovate in the classroom? Intuition often says no and research evidences seem to confirm that individuals choosing to teach are significantly more risk averse. A lot has been written about teachers’ motivation. How can we envisage teachers’ role in and outside the classroom to “develop love of learning”?




While listening to the piece on Learning where Alex designs a continuous learning space and time, I remembered the painter Barnett Newmann who wrote once that “only time can be felt in private. Space is common property. Only time is personal, a private experience”. I believe the same can be said for learning space – a common property where learners meet and experience together – and learning time – where each learner lives a private and intimate experience.

Alex Beard makes us think extensively about education changes taking place with climate change. Even if we rightly believe that education is part of the answer on climate change, we may question the efficiency of teaching in this matter. Ivan Illich criticized the “illusion on which the school system rests (assuming) that most learning is the result of teaching”. For him, “most learning happens casually”. Margaret Mead argued that fighting back the dangers facing our planet should begin by understanding “the immense and long-term consequences of what appear to be small immediate choices”. Is it the responsibility of schools and teachers? Protecting nature can’t be reduced to an educative challenge. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, once argued that “protecting nature is a right of the environment in regard to man”. Enforcing this right is maybe first a matter for lawyers and not for teachers.

We wish to believe, as Alex does, that changes will take place “naturally”. Bumping into someone can in fact 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.

However 20 years ago, Seymour Papert argued that: “children will (no longer) sit quietly in school and listen to a teacher give them predigested knowledge. They will revolt.” Revolt may be the necessary step for changes to happen.

My friend Roger Hart, author of “Children’s Participation”, a masterpiece on environmental education, used to quote Simon Nicholson’s Theory of Loose Parts.  Nicholson writes:

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it”.

He adds that “it does not require much imagination to realise that most environments that do not work (i.e. do not work in terms of human interaction and involvement in the sense described) such as schools, playgrounds, hospitals, day-care centres, international airports, art galleries and museums do not do so because they do not meet the ‘loose part’ requirement; instead they are clean, static and impossible to play around with. What has happened is that adults – in the form of professional artists, architects, landscape architects and planners – have had all the fun playing with their own materials, concepts and planning alternatives (…) and thus has all the fun and creativity been stolen: children and adults and the community have been grossly cheated and the educational-cultural system makes sure that they hold the belief that this is ‘right’ ”.

Nicholson argues that “the dominant cultural elite tell us that the planning, design and building of any part of the environment is so difficult and so special that only the gifted few can properly solve environmental problems”.

The changes Alex is envisioning can’t be dissociated from a deeper change process with a political dimension that will enable local communities starting with children to take over direct responsibility on the decisions that matter for their future.

Roger Hart wrote: “Only through direct participation can children develop a genuine appreciation of democracy and a sense of their own competence and responsibility to participate.”

After listening to Alex Beard, it is certainly time to read again the Convention of the Rights of the Child and its articles 12 and 13 and be convinced that a political framework for change already exists. We just need to use it!

I hope Alex will give us soon a new piece on “Revolt in education”! Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Kailash Satyarthi could then be invited:

“Each one of us has the potential to bring about change if we channel our energies and our anger at injustices in the right way. Even a small spark can dispel darkness in a room. And each of us represents a small but critical spark if we act on the problems we see rather than just witness them”.

Global citizens in times of COVID-19: the ultimate challenge for schools

“La peste che il tribunale della sanità aveva temuto che potesse entrar con le bande alemanne nel milanese, c’era entrata davvero, come è noto; ed è noto parimente che non si fermò qui, ma invase e spopolò una buona parte d’Italia.”

“The plague that the Health Tribunal had feared might enter the Milan area with the German troops really did enter, as is well known. Just as it is well known that the plague did not stop there, but went on to invade and depopulate a good part of Italy.”

 Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi, Capitolo XXXI) has been widely used these days to better understand our reaction to pandemics. Similarities with the 1630 Great Plague of Milan have been analysed by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize in Literature, in a recent opinion published in The New York Times. Pamuk insists on humanity’s tendency to create rumours and spread false information as an unprompted response to pandemics. The most common rumours during plague outbreaks were about who had brought the disease in, and where it had come from.

La peste di Firenze del 1348 in un'incisione di Luigi Sabatelli

La peste di Firenze del 1348 in un’incisione di Luigi Sabatelli

Do we have the ability nowadays to resist rumours, misinformation and stigma and to fight back the tendency to lock ourselves down into our fears and prejudices?

All those interested in the educational dimension of the pandemic will read with great delight the open letter written to his students by Domenico Squillace, principal of Liceo Scientifico Alessandro Volta, a secondary school in Milan. Squillace urges his students to preserve the most precious asset we possess: our social fabric, our humanity.

Pamuk doesn’t say anything else when he argues about our ability to share reliable information and build a common knowledge that “begets a sense of solidarity” between people and “encourages mutual understanding”. Pamuk sees hope for a better world to emerge after this pandemic, if we can “embrace and nourish the feelings of humility and solidarity engendered by the current moment.”

This optimistic statement echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before.

When schools reopen, it will be up to them (and to us!) to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.

If we don’t succeed, then, in the words of the Milanese principal: “La peste avrà vinto davvero”: “The plague really will have won.”

Educating global citizens may well be schools’ ultimate challenge in times of COVID-19!


School is the answer

After a month of lock down due to the Covid-19 crisis, most schools remain closed in most countries with 1,5 billion students out of school.

Universal school closure has obviously an impact on studies and learning achievements. Most of the debate turns around the day of reopening and when and how national evaluations will be done. But school closure has a tremendous immediate effect on health and education inequalities and reveals how important is the school network for public good.

We are suddenly reminded that school is the answer to many social issues. The following bullet points should help us think about the current situation

- Schools means daily basic care

Main reason for school to remain open or reopen is to provide children and parents with basic care: food, attention while parents work. The NY Times reported that out of the 10,521 public schools in California, only one – remained open to give assistance and care to children of families who work the citrus and walnut groves.  30 million students in the US qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches; they are 1,3 M. in the UK. In France according to UNICEF, more than 3 M. children live below the poverty line.

- Homeless children suffer most from the closure

According to a UCL research group, “young children under 5 years living in temporary accommodation rarely have the ability to self-isolate and adhere to social distancing, with previous extreme inequalities and inequities in accessing health care becoming exacerbated”. For instance more than 125.000 children were homeless and in temporary accommodation increased in England in 2019.

- School closures deepen education inequalities

According to a research published by the university of Leuwen, the summer holiday in most American schools is estimated to contribute to a loss in academic achievement equivalent to one month of education for children with low socioeconomic status.

- School closures will exacerbate the epidemic of childhood obesity

A research published in the United States reminds us that children experience most unhealthy weight gain primarily when they are out of school (normally during the summer months).


© WFP/Volana Rarivoson

© WFP/Volana Rarivoson

- Digital innovation was not ready at all in school

Teachers are struggling to find alternative ways of teaching. According to a recent survey made by Synlab with french teachers, 70% of respondents use mainly emails and phones for organizing and offering work to students.

- “Not everything is straightforward”

Videoconference doesn’t solve it all. Only 12% of teachers have set up a virtual classroom. Many teachers are sending the exercises via WhatsApp to families who have no other connection than the mobile. Dozens of municipalities in Navarra and the Basc country (Spain) are implementing systems to deliver door-to-door homework on paper to students who do not have the means to follow online teaching. Singapore has suspended the classroom use of Zoom, a videoconferencing tool with easy-to-use functions that have made it easy for trolls to hijack meetings and harass students

- Connecting with children is a key problem

According to a teacher quoted in the Spanish daily El País, Antonio Solano, director of the Bovalar de Castellón high school, “One of the ones that worries me the most is a boy I have in class, who was working well and whom we have been calling with no results. And I think: but where will he be, what will he be doing?”. In France, 17% of teachers have failed to connect with families, mainly in high schools where the rate rises to almost 40%.

The problem didn’t start with the Covid-19. 263 million children were out-of-school worldwide in the most recent data (2014) published by UNESCO.

- The digital divide widens education inequalities

Remote learning is a fantasy for those who cannot afford internet access”. 10% of Americans — nearly 33 million people — are living without internet, according to a Pew Research study.

 - Parents’ dependency creates more inequalities

Homework is now the rule but most disadvantaged children don’t do “homework”. The homework gap refers to the barriers students face at school when they don’t have access to a high-speed internet connection at home. We are reminded that inequality starts much before school starts. A research team from the University of Michigan showed that disadvantaged children start kindergarten with significantly lower cognitive skills than their more advantaged counterparts. These same disadvantaged children are then placed in low-resource schools, magnifying the initial inequality.

 - Children violence remains

Lockdown due to Covid-19 has emphasized the reality of violence suffered by children. This is unfortunately not new. Globally, it is estimated that up to 1 billion children aged 2–17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year.

 - School closures didn’t occur only with the Covid-19 crisis

UNICEF reminded a year ago that more than 1.9 million children had been forced out of school in West and Central Africa due to an upsurge in attacks and threats of violence.




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