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Education Incorporated Private Boutique School goes global with TED

| September 9, 2019 | 0 Comments


In May 2019, Education Incorporated Private Boutique School (EduInc), located in Fourways, Johannesburg, published its ‘Welcome back to school’ newsletter, gearing everyone up for the second term and reminding families of highlights from term one.

Writing these newsletters is always a fantastic mental exercise in reflection, because the daily running of a school – constantly being in the thick and thin of things – causes us to forget the pace at which we actually operate as a school that prides itself on being small, nimble and innovative. And I mean innovative as Simon Sinek means it in his book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,1 when he states that most innovation is mere novelty. True innovation is industry-changing.

Introducing the Think EDucation room

In that newsletter, we introduced our Think EDucation room. This is a space we created with specific objectives in mind. We named it deliberately to cause people to make associations between what the very recognisable name stands for and what we wanted to achieve in this space. ‘Think Education’ looks innocuous enough when typed out, but when you’re writing out the acronym, the capital ‘T’ in a bold red font and the capitalised ‘ED’ in the second word also in bold red (i.e. the TED room), it becomes pretty obvious where we’re going with this. (But for those who do not yet know, Technology, Entertainment and Design – TED – Conferences LLC is a media organisation that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading’.)2 The TED room itself is a small room permanently set up with all the equipment necessary to record and produce podcasts and videos, all of which, once edited, are uploaded to the school’s YouTube channel as either public or private content, depending on the context. In the TED room, there are also whiteboards along one wall where anyone, students or teachers, can write down and strategise ideas on any topic that interests them, then record their video or podcast, edit and publish it.

Two fundamental motivations

From a leadership perspective, there were two fundamental motivations behind the development of this space. The first was administrative: there are certain lessons in any subject that form basic building blocks and that the teacher is required to teach, and reteach, periodically. Often it is not even a full lesson, just a part of a greater whole that is a common stumbling block for students and needs to be revisited again and again. (English teachers, think apostrophes!) Our thinking was simple. What if a teacher had a particularly effective manner of teaching that one little thing, and we recorded it? If every teacher had just two or three of these gems for each of their subjects, just a couple of short 10- or 15-minute videos or audio clips of fundamental concepts, we could collate a library of great teaching content that is available to our students, taught by their own teachers and accessible wherever and whenever they needed it. Fundamentals on demand for our students, more teaching time for our teachers and alleviation of the tedium of reteaching concepts again and again for both. Our second motivation was based on the understanding that our 21st century students are content sponges. They are exposed to an exponentially larger amount of information than many of their teachers ever were at their age, and they engage with this information in ways with which we are not necessarily familiar or comfortable. The creation of our TED room, and trusting our students with open access to it, allowed us to flip the classroom on a perpetual basis and recognise that the students of today have, in TED parlance, ideas worth spreading. We wanted to create a space where students could share their interests and ideas in a digital environment in which they would be comfortable. Any of our students (or teachers) are able to record discussions or presentations on whatever topics they like, whenever they like. For this generation, the editing process is where revision, reflection and many of the critical thinking skills we seek to teach takes place. Making mistakes and having to do retakes teaches them to fail and iterate in a non-threatening space. Their efforts result in the recordings of their ideas, thoughts and teachings on topics they feel invested in, and they open themselves to feedback by sharing these recordings with their community again using a medium that is relevant to them – YouTube.

Going global

In May 2019, our headmaster, Gershom Aitchison, attended an iPad summit at St Stithians Boys’ Preparatory School,3 where he met Michelle Lissoos, managing director of Think Ahead Education Solutions.4 The technological philosophy of EduInc is that classroom use of e-books, tablets and laptops does not a tech school make. Aitchison and Lissoos agreed on this point and together determined that technology can be used both by struggling students and to deepen the curriculum for all students to make it current and relevant. They discussed TEDEd, a branch of TED that celebrates the ideas of teachers and students around the world through hundreds of animated lessons, customised lessons and big ideas,5 and Lissoos disclosed that TED-Ed had invited her to identify ‘lighthouse schools’ in South Africa that would be able to participate in TED-Ed projects. Lissoos thought EduInc was an ideal candidate. TED-Ed dovetails perfectly with what we have already begun, as it not only teaches presentation literacy to students and encourages them to develop their ideas, but it also provides its own interactive and international platform where teachers can create and share exciting lessons. The serendipity of creating EduInc’s cheekily named TED room, followed so soon by the invitation to join TED-Ed as a South African lighthouse school, was nothing short of astounding. Our ‘Think Education’ logo proudly became linked to the official TED-Ed logo, and EduInc’s TED-Ed club, with its first cohort of students, was born.

Rounds one and two

EduInc’s initial focus is the first round of presentation literacy with our TED-Ed students. The programme identifies five key elements to be explored over 13 lessons and are explained in the TED Resource Library6 as students learning to: • identify the elements of a great idea • think critically about the ideas they’re exposed to online and in real life • research, develop and craft their ideas into compelling, spoken narratives (TED-style talks) • give and receive meaningful feedback on each other’s presented ideas • use visuals, camera, lighting and sound to record and share their ideas effectively. During this period, our students have access to a community of thousands of their peers across the globe who are involved in the same TED-Ed programme, and they are invited to join age-appropriate chats with these students at any time. The programme is run by the school and guided by a group of TED-Ed advisors – which includes, among other education notables, Jackie Bezos (the Bezos Family Foundation),7 Ken Robinson (education expert and reformer)8 and Salman Khan (founder of Khan Academy)9 – and culminates in the uploading of the pupils’ final presentations to the TED global library of student ideas worth spreading. TED certainly knows its audience and how to inspire topquality talks from students: every year, a small handful of students from various TED-Ed clubs, who have uploaded particularly inspired performances, are invited to the TED headquarters in New York for a weekend of workshops and the opportunity to stand on the big red circle on the main TED stage and present their talk to their peers.10 The second phase of EduInc’s partnership with TED-Ed will be having our teachers join the 250 000 strong community of TED-Ed teachers from across the globe. In this space, teachers receive TED training and partner with TED animators to present short, dynamic, inspirational lessons and share them with the world.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick

Education is an odd game. The successful education of a child is determined by how well they have been prepared for a future none of us can fully anticipate, using skills developed by past experiences. It is determined by how well macro-level skills such as critical thinking, resilience and meta-cognition have been taught by teaching multitudes of micro lessons on micro content every day. One wonders how a school can successfully navigate this paradoxical game, especially when the goalposts that keep our teaching current and relevant keep shifting. We do this by understanding, as best we can, how they relate to their world and how they derive value from it. Just as important, we do it by keeping up with them. A school’s ability to be nimble and adaptable is one of the best ways it can demonstrate its commitment to its 21st century students, because that is a school which reflects its students’ realities. A school’s willingness to embrace legitimate industrychanging innovation is a school that it trusted by its students, because its values truly reflect action that is taken in their best interests. Thank you for helping us do this, TED-Ed. See you in New York!

Jacqueline Aitchison is director at Education Incorporated Private Boutique School.


  1. Sinek, S (2011) Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York City: Portfolio.
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Category: Spring 2019

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