Like many people in their early 20s, I was confused – insecure about my place and path in the world, searching. I looked in many places, travelling a lot, and still, it seemed I couldn't find a good answer on how to live a meaningful and personally-fulfilling life. School hadn’t taught me what I needed to know about the world and I didn’t expect that university would.
During this search, I stumbled upon Knowmads in Amsterdam. Knowmads is a school, but I didn’t recognise it as such at first. There was a lot of freedom, no apparent schedule, no teachers – just a group of young people with mentors, working on projects.
I visited the school and asked students what it was about. Each one answered me enthusiastically, but very differently. It seemed there was not one school, but many different schools happening at the same time and at the same place. Despite not understanding exactly why, I enrolled for a year. There was just something special about this place.
Knowmads’ motto is “We Educate Changemakers”. It does so by supporting the personal process of each one of its students – enabling, inspiring, and empowering them to become the best version for themselves and for the world.
Knowmads doesn’t provide a schedule, or a paved path to success. Instead, students are challenged to use the school’s network and facilities to create their own learning journeys. The curriculum is not based on topics or theories, but on four main questions:
- Who am I, and what world do I want to live in?
- What do I want to contribute/change?
- How do I create the organisation/project to get it done?
- How do I bring this change into the world?
Knowmads akes an unusual approach to education. The atmosphere is quite playful and experimental. So are the workshops – from Non-Violent Communication to Speed Healing Sessions and so-called “WTF Lectures”, everything is possible. Students share their knowledge, experiences and inspirations with each other. They share their personal stories and their dreams for themselves and the world. Most of the learning is done through action, either by working on projects for companies, on their own start-ups or in running the school itself.
What kind of education do we need to support people in making a positive difference in the world? This is the underlying question of Knowmads’ educational approach. As Knowmads encourages students to cherish questions more than answers, the school itself is constantly exploring the meaning of education for changemakers. Furthermore, as the students are given ownership over their personal learning journeys, no two years at Knowmads are the same and no two people experience the same education.
After graduating, I left Knowmads deeply impressed by the human beauty I had experienced during that year. And I took up a challenge: to bring Knowmads out into the world, to create more education for changemakers in other places.
I started in Spain, where I was invited to speak at TEDxBarcelonaED. We ran our first program, the Knowmads Lab in Seville, Southern Spain. A highly intense transformative experience, focused on unlearning, self-connection and action.
At the same time, a branch of Knowmads was founded in Hanoi, Vietnam. In a deeply traditional and conservative society, Knowmads offers an opportunity for young innovators to develop themselves personally and to get in touch with their entrepreneurial spirit to find innovative solutions for the existing problems in Vietnamese society.
From here, as Knowmads, we’re going into a deeper exploration of the question around what change education is or could be. In Amsterdam, Hanoi, Berlin and Israel this coming year, groups of young people will take a daring step out of pre-determined education and onto their own path. This is not an easy step to take, it demands a great deal of commitment. But in the end, it’s theirs: each student has ownership of their education. Upon graduating, we trust that each individual will move on to take ownership of every aspect of their life and the world, to support a more sustainable and beautiful environment.
Change is created by daring individuals, able to lead their peers, and to lead themselves. These changemakers are individuals who are able to use their heads (strategy, analytic thinking), hearts (emotional intelligence, connection, authenticity) and their hands (go out and make it happen). I believe in this world we could use a few more of these!
-By Ivo Degn, Knowmads. To learn more about the world of changemaker education that Ashoka is creating visit http://uk.ashoka.org/supporting-young-changemakers
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