Yolanda Eijgenstein: Small steps towards big dreams
Interview with Yolanda Eijgenstein, board member of TEDxAmsterdamEducation.
Mariette Reineke, PR manager for TEDxAmsterdamED 2016, recently spoke to Yolanda Eijgenstein. Yolanda has recently joined the board of TEDxAmsterdamED and this year’s event will be her first.
Mariette set out to find out what motivated Yolanda to become a board member, what her view is on Life Long Learning based on her own experience in the corporate world and her ideas about the future of TEDxAmsterdamEducation.
You are new to TEDxAmsterdamEducation, what made you join the board of this event and what is your relationship with education?
I remember thinking, I want to make people aware of the need for innovation in education, because I feel therein lies the way to make people happier in the end. So coming back to TEDxED, the name is there, the event is wonderful, but if I am going to get involved I want to make it bigger and better! Right now, the event mainly reaches the early adapters, both in the audience and via our live stream. This of course is great, but for me, the aim should be to reach beyond those happy few and reach the schools, where the actual changes need to take place.
This means that I want to make sure that everyone in Dutch education knows about this event and participates in some way. Moreover, I want Dutch corporations to get involved. After all, HR departments deal with ‘learning’ every day. I have wondered, why don’t companies have a Chief Learning Officer? I am on the board of many organisations, why aren’t there CLOs? Looking at it this way, I want to encourage a broader discussion about how our society can improve and increase learning.
As you said, the corporate world is your playground. So how do you feel we can make better connections between that world and the one of education?
Well, first we need to realise these worlds are actually much closer to each other than we think. It seems to me that our current system of education no longer provides what the corporate world needs and that our children aren’t leaving school with the qualifications society needs them to have.
We need to update our curriculum, actually, we need to start seeing these two worlds as one. For instance, work life and private life are no longer as separated as they used to be, and neither should school life and work life be! People learn continually, are educated all the time and we can even ask the question: will schools as we know them still exist in ten years?
So you’re saying work is a kind of school too, in the sense that we’re learning every day at work, but also that the whole concept of a separate week and weekend life is outdated and everything is more connected and more as one than before?
Yes, because every day while I’m at work, I’m learning too. Looking back in history, when schools first came about people needed to learn practical skills to work in the factories that came about during the industrial revolution. So the practical, the technical was the main focus of the education system. After that the focus turned to spreading knowledge, say over the past 70 years.
But something vital has changed in my view. Knowledge is no longer the unique selling point of the school, people are able to find it anywhere and at any time. School focuses too much on how things used to be and teaches students knowledge they don’t need and is therefore much less relevant in sharing of knowledge!
Knowledge is something we create together and if you’ve learnt something good, at home on your laptop, you can take it to school and share it and build on it. So it is more important how people feel about things, what their analysis is and how they think they should design their future. Of course we do need to teach some skills and something about human values, but education should centre on how we should deal with each other, on personal and social skills, that will be the main focus for the coming 10, 20, 70 years.
So you feel the system could do with some changes?
No, the system has to change! My heart bleeds when I hear my son learns the same in school as I did forty years ago. This cannot be true. The way things are taught might be different, but still.
You’re indicating the system has not changed much, although methods of teaching might have. As society is changing so rapidly, how should the education system, and how should the corporate world adapt, and can they?
That is exactly the point, the not knowing is not a problem, it is a challenge! The not knowing is scary but exciting. I understand that parents want what is familiar for their children. They want for their children what they have had: the nice school, the familiar subjects, a chance to get into university, etc. I understand that.
But for this change we need everyone to be on board. I want everyone to realise, teacher, parent and child, that we shape our own future. No one knows yet what that future looks like, but we need to become aware that therein lies the challenge! Truly understanding that the world will look very different in ten years, and being ready to make plans and change plans, to adapt, that is vital.
You are asking for a fundamental change in the way we think, in the way we live our lives. Relinquishing control and changing how we view life, basically.
What you are suggesting requires a big internal shift, requires for people to not merely accept we won’t know what the future brings, but to relish in the unknown. People tend to want to be in control, but it seems right now we are on the brink of something, where we have already lost that control.
Exactly. I like to use the metaphor of the pieces of the puzzle. It has helped me in the past and I think it fits the way we need to look at education too. Before, when doing a puzzle you would start at the edges and slowly fill in the rest. Now however, you find you have a few pieces of the puzzle and they may or may not fit, but the edges are lacking and they won’t be there in the future either.
Realising that those edges will never be there can make you less fearful. So those edges will not be there, but that means I can create them myself. People will group together with other people who have the same views on what the edges are, which will create new education systems, new HR policies and other new initiatives for learning.
Our digitised society is actually the best platform for facilitating this. People will feel more connected to their school or organisation, and the role of governments will change. The Ministry for Education will no longer determine the curriculum, parents and teachers will decide what they think is good for their children.
Back to TEDxED. This year’s theme is “Born to learn”, we are born to learn from cradle to grave. What do you think is the relationship of the corporate world with this theme?
I do work a lot in the corporate world, and I have noticed that like in education, businesses are unsure of what the future may bring. And with that uncertainty I feel they are going back to the familiar institutions, universities, colleges, etc. to educate their staff. This in itself is a good thing, it means they are more aware of the value of learning.
What we need to focus on more though, is that learning happens every day. Every day and in many ways. We are living longer and learning longer, both in our careers and outside the work place. That for me is born to learn. Which makes me ask the question: do we still work for money in twenty years’ time? I’m not so sure. What if we all had a base income and people could do what is closest to their hearts? Research has shown that this doesn’t mean that people will slack off, on the contrary! If we all make, say, a thousand euros, then we can do whatever we want! And that means people will be able to do what they love to do, rather than what they have to do to make money. And then they will become really good at that and feel fulfilled. I’m an optimist and I doubt this’ll happen anytime soon but I’d like to pretend it will!
Step by step. And you are right, it is different for younger generations. Money is important, but so is personal development. This generation seems to focus more on other things, being human, being connected, having insights in how we should all live together. So broadly speaking, a change is brewing.
And the best thing is, that none of us, not even the Ministry for Education, know how to handle this change. But the beauty is, we don’t need to know! We are going to learn from this generation. They already know, it is in their hearts, their bodies and their heads. Yes, their heads too, because the head remains very important; knowledge is vital still, just the gathering of that knowledge is changing.
More through experience…
Absolutely! This will change completely, even if we’re not yet ready to accept this. Look at the fact we are still teaching children to write neatly. Very nostalgic, but who will still be writing in ten years?! But a lot is changing, and the Dutch Ministry for Education is now encouraging parents to create new schools, based on their ideas for their children.
What role do you see for TEDxAmsterdamED in a few years?
I would like for every school to continually discuss innovation. We will start by saying we want to reach 50 schools in five years, but this way of looking at innovation has to become the norm. I want for us to treat children like people, people who know what they want and what works for them.
I ask people all the time: what is it that you want? And I find they don’t know, as this question hasn’t been asked before. That makes me sad. What I want is for TEDxAmsterdamED to facilitate that change in thinking that will make companies and corporations work together to change our system. We need to teach our children that they don’t only need knowledge but are allowed to also focus on personal development, social skills, etc. New social enterprises will not be for profit, but instead be geared towards improving society as a whole.
So to reiterate, you are not just looking at the event itself?
Exactly. I see great things for the side events, where people can watch our Talks and discuss what it means to them. I would love for TEDxAmsterdamED to be a facilitator for those in education that embrace innovation and change. So they can use our Talks, for instance, to start a monthly meeting and have an inspiring discussion based on that Talk. To look beyond the day to day running of the school, and tap into that vast group of teachers that want to innovate, but might not yet know how to.
In conclusion, what have you learnt in the past few days?
That if I have a big dream, I need to take small steps to get there. And that’s something I’m not good at, small steps. I want everything done this year, but no, like for instance with TEDxAmsterdamED, we have five years to achieve a goal.
The lesson is, a little patience?
Indeed. I am learning things happen in small steps.