From rote-learning to self-learning: Nurturing future-fit leaders

April 17, 2017Magna Rautenbach

Students of today – the planet’s future leaders – are entirely different to students of yesterday. Many students I’ve taught are part of a new, always-connected generation that has moved beyond textbooks in their education. These students are racing ahead (or trying to), but the way we teach them hasn’t changed since the Industrial Revolution. In a Google-powered world, simple, rote memorization is obsolete.

Iain McGilchrist is a widely published British psychiatrist who practiced for many years in London. For more than 25 years, Iain has researched the complex subject of “brain lateralization”, or the difference between left and right brain thinking. His conclusion that both hemispheres of the brain are intimately involved in all activities, whether creative or analytical, supports the need for education to move beyond antiquated priorities and diversify its methods and approaches.

As a veteran teacher and an advocate for public education, I’m determined to move beyond the echo chambers within which education reformers are often trapped. More holistic approaches are needed. The best tool I have found – and one I am introducing to South Africa – is SOLE: Self Organized Learning Environments.

SOLE is an inquiry based learning solution for the connected generation. It’s a learning approach that increases student engagement and develops future-fit skills such as critical thinking, curiosity, presentation skills and entrepreneurship.

international education development self learning infographic early childhoodAny school can use SOLE with no financial commitment, thanks to the TED-funded open-source SOLE Toolkit. In South Africa, we’re helping to fund SOLE in a Box “kits” that provides necessary materials for underserved schools to use the methodology. Each toolkit includes:

  • 10 Tablets to enable inquiry focused learning sessions;
  • An annual WiFi / Cell contract(s) for instant connectivity to the web;
  • Access to a dedicated SOLE Mentor to give teachers guidance on their new role;
  • Membership to the SOLE South Africa platform and an individual group on the platform;
  • Access to a database of Big Questions relevant to the South African curriculum.

Once the toolkit has been delivered, mentors help teachers learn how to best facilitate SOLEs and provide ongoing support. The program aims to support schools around South Africa to encourage IT skills, entrepreneurship, creativity, teamwork, and empathy among students around the country.

Comprehensive and creative approaches are not only more aligned with 21st century student-realities, they are also making scalable impact that past reforms have repeatedly failed to produce.

Flexible learning tools like SOLE can be implemented at grassroots level, with cost-efficiencies, and without disrupting the entire system. SOLE had humble beginnings in India in 1999, but is now established in the US, Australia, India, Argentina, Colombia, Cambodia, Greece, Spain, Mexico and the UK.  SOLE Central, an initiative of Newcastle University in the UK, coordinates global efforts.

SOLE Central’s mission is to bring together SOLE researchers, practitioners, policymakers and entrepreneurs. Their case studies (as of early 2017) include 6 global SOLEs with input and funding provided by 12 research partners. TED is the founding partner, with an initial $1m prize awarded to Sugata Mitra to fulfill his wish of a School in the Cloud. They have published 16 research papers over a 5-year period, all of which point to the fact that the model dramatically improves education outcomes.

international education development self learning infographic early childhoodAt the core of SOLE is the principle of self-discovery as a means to learning. However, SOLE is much more than just a new method of learning. We work to unleash a student’s unique ability to tackle virtually any challenge, skill or subject, without regard to their present level of experience. The life skills students acquire through SOLE is a recognition that they can accomplish any goal even when formal instruction is not available. Utilizing this unique skill opens up an entire world of possibilities to young minds more so than what formal education offers.

The explosive growth in technology today renders nearly obsolete those skills which may have been on the cutting edge just a few years before. The person who relies only on those skills picked up during their “learning years” will be severely shortchanged. This is where SOLE comes into play. First, it is necessary just to keep pace. Second, it opens up a whole new range of career and entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as personal fulfillment.

While the SOLE concept has been championed since 2013, SOLE South Africa is still in her infancy. We have formed our management team, received non-profit certification and we’re planning the rollout to the first schools in 2017. We’ve submitted funding proposals and are in advanced discussions with many of South Africa’s largest companies who are looking for innovative, effective Corporate Social Responsibility programs. In short, the bow is loaded, the string is taut and the arrow is waiting to fly.

SOLE SA’s moonshot mission is “2030 by 2030.” We aim to identify, nurture and develop 2,030 future-fit entrepreneurial icons, role models and leaders, to a combined net worth of $20.30B by 2030.

To find out why I’m so excited about SOLE in South Africa, please visit and consider becoming one of our founding ambassadors.

Magna Rautenbach is Managing Director of SOLE South Africa working to enable parents and teachers to raise change makers. SOLE South Africa powers a cradle to career edtech platform to enable parents and teachers to facilitate Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLEs).

Photo Credits: SOLE Central ; SOLE South Africa ; SOLE Central 

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