What we can learn from Esther Wojcicki

“I saw a system that didn’t work and a system I didn’t trust so I challenged the whole system. Worldwide, kids are forced to learn things not related to the real world. We test them on it and they get into the world without the skills they need. I want to change things.”

I recently had the pleasure of joining an intimate discussion between one of the greatest pioneers in education reform, Esther Wojcicki - or 'Woj' as her friends know her - at an event hosted by Big Change with Lord Jim Knight

It was such an exciting and insightful morning- coinciding with the launch of Big Change’s Reimagining Education Together report.

Holly Branson and Esther Wojcocki at a Big Change discussion

As an educator, author, journalist and advocate, Esther has been challenging the education system for over 30 years now. She is also the mother of three incredible daughters including Susan (CEO of YouTube), Anne (cofounder and CEO of 23andMe) and Janet (anthropologist, epidemiologist and paediatrics professor). This experience combined has earned Esther the affectionate and accurate title as ‘Godmother of Silicon Valley’.

Esther had a difficult upbringing after losing her brother at an early age. As a result of the tragedy, Esther struggled to place her trust in people such as doctors and professors and always sought to find answers for herself. This mindset really shaped Esther’s career and she actively taught her students and children to embrace their independence, autonomy and curiosity.

Esther Wojcocki at a Big Change discussion

As we listened to Esther speak so passionately about her story and her work, it was encouraging to hear her thoughts so aligned with the philosophy and ethos that drives us at Big Change

She spoke about how students need to be taught fundamental life skills as well as independence and autonomy to be better equipped for life beyond the school gates. She also addressed the rise in mental health issues faced by young people, the power of collaborative learning and the different roles we all have to play to create long-term, systemic change in education.

Holly Branson with Lord Jim Knight and Esther Wojcocki

Esther's views on how we ought to create change were refreshingly simple and value-based. Her 'TRICK' to creating an effective and human-focused learning ecosystem involves:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Independence
  • Collaboration and
  • Kindness.

Esther feels so strongly about this process that it shaped the structure of her new book - which I was really excited to get signed and started reading over the weekend.

Esther concluded the discussion by reminding us that “your children represent hope”. As I sat with Lola breathing deeply on my chest, it really bought the message home.


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