Last week I drove up to Jerusalem for the closing ceremony of the National Competition for Young Scientists in Israel, where my daughter was one of the finalists and winners. Her research paper dealt with some aspect of quantum computation. I think one of the reasons she chose this particular topic was because everybody kept telling her this is the most advanced and complicated topic in physics, and that at 16 she was too young to research it. Shaii Kiriati would only see such a phrase as a challenge.

Of the 3 topics she was offered, this field seemed to her the most exciting. Her research paper was a part of a doctorate work by Oded Zilberberg, a Weizmann Institute PhD student, who served as her guide and mentor. 11th-12th graders in Israel can choose to perform a research instead of taking a test in one of their expanded topics for the Bagrut (the Israeli Baccalaureate). Shaii’s choice was to do a research in physics instead of a test. Sure, she could have spit her physics books onto the test papers and get a perfect score, but that’s not learning, she explained to me. And learning is what she wanted to do.

During the year she worked on the research she learned and read and developed in a way not possible within the regular school walls. She has earned tools and abilities she wouldn’t have been able to get in a classroom.

~Research and the Program for the Gifted~
44 students reached the final stage at the Competition in Jerusalem. I was happy to discover not all research papers were pure science and math. Some papers dealt with history, anthropology, civics, sports, cinema and fashion. The one thing all participants have in common is their desire to learn.

My daughter has been studying in a special class for the gifted since the beginning of the program in 3rd grade. One of the things they told us when we were first introduced to it was that the kids who passed the tests and were invited to join all share a desire to learn and a high level of learning abilities and that the program aims to cultivate, support and encourage these qualities.

Yet of all students in the gifted program in our city only 1 reached the finals. Only 2 bothered to do a research. The rest of the kids couldn’t be bothered. Their main desire today is to be over and done with school. Learning? They couldn’t care less. I think from all finalists only one more student came from a special program for the gifted.

What does it mean? That even a special program for the gifted couldn’t rescue the desire to learn from being repressed in a school environment. On the other hand it takes some very unique students with their environments – school and home – to keep the learning fire on. There’s no stopping these learners now.

~The Education Revolution and the Learning Desire~
Yesterday I watched again a TED presentation by Sugata Mitra from 2010 where he presented the amazing learning abilities kids poses and how they can teach themselves. I also watch the lengthier and more detailed presentation here. One key phrase he repeats in both is actually a quote by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, saying “when learners have interest – education happens”.

It made me stop and reflect on all education reforms and revolutions and innovations I came across over the past several years I am so heavily into it. That is the key, isn’t it? The learners’ interest.

Sir Ken Robinson published an interview with teens about his dream school on his website and it hit me again – all these dreams are great for those who want to learn.

I went back to presentations I have watched before like the famous 2006 TED “Do Schools Kill Creativity” by Sir Ken Robinson, 2007 “21st century pedagogy” by Greg Whitby or the 2010 presentation by Jesse Schell “The Future is Beautiful”. Went  over conversations about technology, my own post about Waldorf education and the non-tech approach, it all comes down to one single assumption: that kids actually want to learn. That they have an interest.

~Learning: a Survival Instinct~
My daughter thinks learning is a survival instinct we are all born with. Very similar to our need to breath, eat and drink. “How else would a baby learn a language in 2 years?”, she wonders. And me, if I had to make a research, I would start with the young scientists and investigate what helped their learning crave survive 12 years of school. My guess is, that’s where the education revolution should start.