Global challenges, local solutions

Pittsburgh's Remake Learning collaborates with education leaders around the world

In India, children as young as 4 are beginning to learn about sustainability and climate change through play. In Nigeria, early-career teachers are being mentored to bring innovative techniques to classrooms and learn to change the world.

And in the Pittsburgh region, a series of “moonshot grants,” inspired by last year’s Tomorrow Grants, will soon offer $1.1 million to fund experimental ideas for the future of learning.

These learning initiatives, and many more, were on display earlier this week during the international Learning Planet festival, which convened—virtually, for the COVID era—a global community of education thinkers and innovators.

Their goal? To explore what is being done—and can be done this year—to create a more impactful and equitable learning experience for young people all over the world.

During two days of presentations and discussions, this group of thinkers and educators from the planet’s every corner practiced the same vital skills they propose teaching students: effectively sharing ideas and connecting to brainstorm and tackle problems together.

“Ideas are nobody’s property. They should be shared. They should be democratic. And you must have space to experiment with them,” Daksh Gaur, creator of the World Teens Parliament, told attendees.

The festival was timed to coincide with the UN’s third annual International Day of Education, and the global flavor was deliberate even beyond the diversity of its participants: Today, perhaps more urgently than ever, our world needs young people who feel empowered to address local challenges and band together to tackle global ones.

And for these young problem-solvers to grow and flourish, whole communities need to pool their knowledge to create true ecosystems of learning.

“Learning together to meet the challenges of our time is probably our best hope,” said François Taddei, chief exploration officer at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI), as the festival began.

Francois Taddei
Francois Taddei kicks off the #LearningPlantet Festival.

Along with Taddei, Gregg Behr, executive director of The Grable Foundation and co-chair of Remake Learning, kicked off the festival as part of a group described as “the pioneers” who have built “exemplary learning communities” around the world.

After 15 years of fostering the development of Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning network to build a local learning ecosystem, Behr spoke about the opportunity all communities have to embrace this work—especially as the COVID-19 school disruption has revealed both the need for change and the many possibilities to do things differently in the future.

“In our forever-changed educational landscape, we can shape what comes next to make learning more relevant, more engaging and more equitable. We can choose either to limit ourselves or to pursue limitless possibilities,” Behr told the festival attendees. “What you’re doing—what we’re doing—to prepare for what comes next isn’t merely aspirational. It’s deeply personal for each of us.”

Gregg Behr
Gregg Behr speaks during the Learning Planet Festival’s “Pioneers” session.

Personal connection was a key to the beginnings of the Remake Learning network in 2007. Meetings over coffee and pancakes led to group discussions, which grew into partnerships and collaborative projects among schools, museums, artists, nonprofits, foundations and other organizations. The common goal: to make sure engaging, relevant learning becomes the norm for every young person in the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

After nearly 15 years, this network has grown to include more than 600 members in southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. Their work has retained its focus on personal, local connections and face-to-face collaboration, even as Remake Learning has become deeply involved as a member of the global learning innovation community and collaborating with partners around the world.

One speaker at this week’s Learning Planet festival touched on just how vital these personal connections can be: Even as “technology is something that has saved relationships in terms of education under this global pandemic,” Dr. Saima Rana of the U.K.-based Varkey Foundation said, it cannot replace the power of human connection.

“Education is about relationships,” Rana said. “It’s about feelings. It’s about connections. It’s about being together.”

For the team at Pittsburgh’s Remake Learning, and for so many of the participants at this week’s Learning Planet event, relationships are the key to innovating and to teaching.

As 2021 begins, the learning disruption and challenges of 2020 remain with us. Being together is still a challenge, and yet educators worldwide are finding ways to work closely with one another.

“No organization alone can transform teaching and learning to better serve today’s young people,” Remake Learning director Tyler Samstag said, as he shared the network’s latest initiatives with the festival attendees. “So Remake Learning helps bring them together.”