Musings on Culture

Alejandra de Leiva's Blog

Category : Education

On escaping education’s death valley

I posted recently about recognized thinker on education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson. In this newly-released TED Talk, Robinson outlines his opinions on what is needed to make a shift from an education system based on standardization, that kills creativity and curiosity and prevents many children to find their true passions and talents, to a nurturing, personalised and interdisciplinary environment that allows schoolkids to discover their individual talents.

I’ve also enjoyed a lot Ramsey Musallam´s TED Talk on the role of teachers as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry:


The 1949 Mechanical Enclyclopedia, precursor of today’s eBooks

Angela Ruiz Robles

In 1949, Angela Ruiz Robles, a Spanish teacher, invented the Mechanical Enclyclopedia, the world’s first automated reader, precursor of today’s eBooks. The device, that operated on pressurized air, had pre-loaded content on spools that readers could load onto rotating spindles.

In the application she filed with the Spanish Patent and Trademark Office she wrote that:

It has some coils where you place the books that you want to learn in whatever language. By a movement of the the coils, it passes over all the topics, making it stop where you would like it to.
(Patent No. 190,698)




Ruiz Robles conceived the Mechanical Enclyclopedia to reduce the weight of school children’s backpacks, and to make reading accessible to all. She also planned to add a reading light, sound and a calculator. Unfortunately, she could’t find funding in order to continue with the project, and the Mechanical Enclyclopedia never reached the market. The prototype of the automated reader is exhibited in the National Museum of Science and Technology in La Coruña.

The inventor lived in a time when women were totally marginalized in Spanish society. During Francoism, women needed the authorization of their father or husband to carry almost any activity outside domestic labour. Women’s role was limited to being a sweet wife and a diligent mother.

Further information:


The Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic

I’ve just seen a very interesting documentary about the Pedagogical Missions in the Second Spanish Republic. The film, directed by Gonzalo Tapia for Acacia Films in 2007, can be watched below (in Spanish with English subtitles).

When the Second Republic was proclaimed in 1931, Spain was a country riven by inequalities. It was a predominantly agrarian country with a deep division between landowners and peasants. Industrial development lagged far behind that of the US and Western Europe: modern industry existed only in a few Spanish regions. As a result, there was a a big chasm between urban and rural life.

One of the aims of the Republic was to fight these inequalities. Education was viewed as an indispensable instrument to lay the foundations of a new, equalitarian society. The government undertook an education reform to established free, obligatory, secular education for all. By then, the level of illiteracy stood at 44% per cent, and was predominant in rural areas.

The Pedagogical Missions were a project conceived to bring culture to remote villages. Teachers, school inspectors, artists and intellectuals travelled to the most underprivileged areas of the country to build libraries, show movies, reproductions of artworks, bring phonograph records and gramophones, teach music, organise open-aire theatre representations, etc., to bridge the chasm separating urban and rural areas. For many of the inhabitants of these towns, that was the first time they read a book, listened to a musical recording or saw a movie.

The documentary features actual interviews with former missionaries, inhabitants from these villages and original footage mostly shot by filmmaker José Val del Omar.

The implementation of the educational reform and the Pedagogical Missions arouse vehement protests from the conservative parties and the Church.

An interviewee in the documentary tells a funny and revealing anecdote: she explains that children were encouraged by the missionaries’ opponents to scornfully yell at them “Communists, communists!”… Some of the children did yell at them… but afterwards added: “When is the film?”.

Misiones Pedagogicas

This anecdote reminds me of the emotional and powerful last scene of La Lengua De Las Mariposas (The Butterfly’s Tongue), a film directed in 1999 by José Luis Cuerda, that adapted three short stories from Manuel Rivas’ book ¿Qué me quieres, amor?. People who have seen the film or read the book will know what I’m talking about; I don’t want to spoil the ending for those of you who don’t know the story!

In 1936, General Franco’s fascist uprising pushed Spain into a bloody civil war that resulted in the fascist victory in 1939 and the establishment of Franco’s dictatorship, until his death in 1975. The fascists’ regime carried out extensive purges among the teaching staff, that was regarded as permeated with communism. Franco’s regime endeavored to remove all vestiges of the Republicans’ education reform: Francoism reinforced class distinctions and ideological control.

To get a better understanding of the educational reform intended by the Second Republic, complement the viewing of the documentary with these  interesting articles:


Sir Ken Robinson’s “The Element” and the education revolution

Sir Ken Robinson, The Element

I’ve just finished reading the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by internationally recognized thinker on education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson. I had previously been inspired by some of his talks: his famous speech at the TED conference in 2006 Do schools kill creativity?, one of the most viewed of all TED Talks so far; another TED Talk, Bring on the learning revolution! and his lecture Changing Education Paradigms, at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), that was adapted into an animation.

Sir Robinson proclaims that current school systems are outdated because they are still modelled on the needs of the Industrial Revolution to provide well-trained, skilled labor force. The system of mass education is based on standardization: all children learn the same, in separate subjects, at the same time and in the same way, “a bit like an assembly line”, Robinson says. This system values some forms of intelligence (analytical) over others (emotional, artistic), ignoring that human talents are diverse.

In the Knowledge Society, divergent thinking and creativity are much more important skills to develop. Robinson calls for a shift to a more holistic, personalised and interdisciplinary model that creates the conditions to allow schoolkids to discover their individual talents and to exercise their autonomy. It is demonstrated that children are more eager to learn when their interests and talents are put at the center of attention, and when they are allowed to explore, create and discover on their own.

The book was published in 2009. The Element is that place “where we allow our skills to match our passions”. According to Robinson, “education should be one of the main processes that take us to the Element”. But standardized education is too narrow and prevents many children to find their true passions and talents. Robinson explains in this book the cases of several successful people from very different disciplines whose talents were unnoticed at school. He calls for systems that foster a personalised curriculum, embrace creativity and multidisciplinarity, and go beyond the traditional and artificial hierarchy of subjects.

Some of my favourite quotes from The Element:

“When people place themselves in situations that lead to their being in the zone, they tap into a primal source of energy.”

“The Element is about discovering your self, and you can’t do this if you’re trapped in a compulsion to conform. You can’t be yourself in a swarm.”

“Learning happens in the minds and souls of individuals –not in the databases of multiple-choice tests.”

“Great teachers have always understood that the real role is not to teach subjects but to teach students.”

And from Bring on the learning revolution!:

“We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

“We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”

So, if you’re looking for an inspirational read, I would highly recommend you The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Additionally, I would also like to recommend you the documentary film The Forbidden Education (Argentina, 2012), which I recently saw. It documents diverse alternative systems of education like the Montessori method, free education, new active schools, Waldorf education, progressive education, etc. The ideas it explores has many parallels with the change Sir Ken Robinson is advocating. The film can be downloaded for free on the official website. Worth a watch!

La educacion prohibida


Mapping the current practices in film literacy in Europe

From end of April to mid July 2012 I had the chance to do a work placement at the British Film Institute, as part of my MA in International Cultural Policy and Management from the University of Warwick. One of my tasks, together with a MA student from Birbeck University, was to assist with research for a report mapping the current practices in film literacy in Europe. The report is part of a series of research studies funded by the Media Literacy initiative of the European Commission. The core research team consisted of a consortium of the BFI, the Institute of Education (University of London) and the industry body Film Education. The aim of the research is to analyse the provision of film education in Europe in formal and informal education settings, covering all age groups, and provide recommendations on how to strengthen film education and better integrate film literacy in the MEDIA strand of the Creative Europe programme 2014-2020.

The final report will be published in 2013 on the European Commission’s website. Mark Reid (Head of Education, BFI) and Andrew Burn (Professor of Media Education, Institute of Education, University of London) have written an essay that provides a summary of key findings. The article is published in the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy with the title “Screening Literacy: Reflecting on Models of Film Education in Europe” and can be read following this link.

The Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy is open access and can be downloaded here.

UPDATE (May 2013): Executive Summary of research + EU Recommendations published here.

Screening Literacy BFI MEDIA European Commission

UPDATE (June 2013): Full report available on BFI’s website.


Resources about museum education and technology

In this post, I would like to share with you some resources about museum education and technology that I have found to be both helpful and inspiring.

  • The NMC Horizon Report 2012: Museum Edition, published on January 14, 2013 by the New Media Consortium (NMC), examines six technologies that are most likely to have a significant impact in museum education and interpretation over the next five years: mobile apps, social media, augmented reality, open content, smart objects and natural user interfaces. The report describes in detail each of these technologies and highlights several programs developed by different cultural institutions to facilitate learning and reach out to a wider audience. The report is available for download following this link.
  • The videos from the International Conference Museums in Education held at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid in November 2012. I’ve only watched a few yet, but there is some fantastic content. I’ve found specially interesting Masha Turchinsky’s conference on New educational formats in the Museum. Digital media, digital collaborative projects and edutainment in the Museum. Masha Turchinsky is Senior Manager for Digital Learning & Senior Media Producer, Digital Media at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the video she talks about three of the Met’s recent digital media projects, and reflects “on these digital media formats as progressive steps in Museum’s active role of harnessing technology in order to pose questions about future notions of what a museum can and should be to remain relevant to its worldwide audience of learners”. Turchinsky’s conference can be watched here (in Spanish).
  • Amit Sood’s TED Talk Building a museum of museums. Sood is the head of Google’s Art Project, an online platform through which the public can access high-resolution images of artworks found in different museums worldwide, making art accessible with just a click of the mouse. Sood discusses in this talk some of the Art Project’s features. Astonishing.
  • Thomas P. Campbell’s TED Talk Weaving narratives in museum galleries. In this video, Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, speaks about his approach to curating, an approach that tries to break down the stereotype of museums as elitist. Campbell states that the role of the curator is to create narratives to give people a way to connect with artworks through their stories.

Taller literario: el cuento

He impartido recientemente un taller literario en una escuela concertada de secundaria en Barcelona. He quedado muy satisfecha con la experiencia, sobre todo porque ha sido mi primera experiencia docente y los alumnos han respondido muy bien, mostrando mucho interés por la materia. Espero impaciente leer los cuentos escritos que me tienen que entregar mis alumnos después de Navidad, para comprobar hasta qué punto han interiorizado los conceptos trabajados.

Cuelgo el Power Point que elaboré para las clases por si le es útil a alguien interesado en la historia del cuento y la narratología.

Taller literario_El cuento