How These 5 Cities Are Tackling Education

Robot teachers? Military schools on Mars? The world of education has not quite become what the Jetsons imagined in the 1960s. But they did get some things right, from computer tablets to video calls.

Today, when digitally savvy children are either outsmarting the books in front of them (thanks, Google) or are simply unable to access modern forms of education, teachers and governments are racking their brains — and finding smart ways to move forward. From artificial intelligence grading systems to environmentally focused schools made from bamboo to the city simply pulling out the good old TV set, today’s Daily Dose takes you on a global journey to five regions that are reimagining the world of education.

sewell, new jersey: machine learning is here

Time Bomb

Think a teacher’s day ends when the bell rings? Fat chance. Meetings, class planning and, worst of all, endless paper grading means many face long hours working from the couch. Coupled with the challenge of providing meaningful individual feedback, administrative chores are a top source of stress for many overworked school staffers: One English teacher from Providence, Rhode Island, reports spending 300 hours (nearly two work months) a year just marking tests. Imagine tackling that additional workload while trying to find new ways to engage 10-year-olds in math!

AI to the Rescue

Here’s the solution: Schools in the picturesque American community of Sewell, New Jersey, population 37,000, are testing a machine-powered learning system that grades handwritten tests, analyzes results, tracks students’ progress and delivers new content based on their individual needs. The technology, which assesses photos of the kids’ completed assignments and delivers corrections and suggestions in seconds, is actually helping improve test results. Someone, please pass the Champagne.

I, Teacher

Will this development mark the end of the road for our already overworked, underpaid teachers, then? Not at all. On top of helping children, these machine-learning systems are allowing educators to focus on other areas, such as imparting students with social skills and encouraging them to partake in sports and teamwork, which, at least for now, computers can’t help us with. One of the first people to test the platform in Sewell is algebra teacher Jennifer Turner, who reports that grades in her class have gone up thanks to the new technology. “Students are excited to be in my room, they’re telling me they love math, and those are things that I don’t normally hear,” she told The New York Times.

green ideas (and notes) from bali

Tokyo skyline at Night

New Education

We know the world is changing faster than you can say “Machines are taking over the world.” However, 21st-century children — get this — are being taught broadly the same education curriculum that their great-grandparents studied back in 1918. Is that crazy, considering all the technological change that’s come to pass? Yes. But is it surprising? Perhaps not. Today, reading and writing, math, science, history and foreign languages still take priority over skills such as problem-solving, teamwork and creativity. This means that these “soft skills” are not likely to be automated anytime soon.

Outdoor Schools

So how do you prepare the kids of today for a world that doesn’t yet exist? Easy. Give them the skills to create the next robots in an environment that promotes awareness of our natural world — and make sure they’re breathing clean air while doing so. Sound utopian? It might be, but that’s the philosophy behind Green School, established 15 years ago by lifelong entrepreneurs John and Cynthia Hardy. The bamboo walls of their Bali school might seem more “yoga retreat” than “addition and division,” but it delivers lessons in permaculture, entrepreneurial learning and miming. The school’s ethos is to take students on a journey that fosters critical thinking and builds a more environmentally friendly and sustainable society. What’s more, it has succeeded in attracting students from across the globe.

Green (Notes)

A great idea, right? While the thought of children learning theater and farming surrounded by the lush rainforest of a tropical island is undeniably amazing, there’s a catch: the price tag. In fact, the school has been criticized for allegedly being elitist and designed exclusively for the offspring of well-off digital nomads. Want some social awareness with that cup of environmentalism?

master(chef) schools in the pacific

A Heavy Challenge

The world is getting more and more obese. Sure, there’s nothing new there, but did you know that most of the 10 countries with the highest rates of adult obesity are islands in the Pacific? (Yes, the U.S. also ranks pretty high on the list). One of the reasons behind this epidemic-sized crisis afflicting Pacific Islanders? Colonization. Before Americans, Australians, British, French, Japanese and others arrived on their verdant shores, the local diet consisted mainly of fresh fish and local fruits and vegetables. But with the uninvited foreign boats also came rice, sugar, flour, preserved foods, softs drinks and beef, throwing the dietary — and caloric — intake of the local populations out of whack.

Healthy ‘MasterChef’

So how have Pacific Islanders fought to get kids to eat well when junk is all around? They’ve made it cool. In a bid to get children across the region to swap soda cans for natural fruit juices and fatty burgers for lean local fish, authorities in Fiji teamed up with UNICEF to create a health-oriented, educational TV show called Pacific Island Food Revolution (the local answer to MasterChef). The series features teams of adults or children taking their enthusiasm into the kitchen while making dishes using locally sourced ingredients. “Programs like these provide children a platform, not only to develop their academic skills, but also positions them as role models for their peers,” Rosy Akbar, Fiji’s Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, tells UNICEF.

Making Healthy Cool

Wait, does this actually work? Authorities in the U.S. claim they have been working to fight obesity for years (remember former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign?). Sorry to say, American kids are not getting any healthier. While there is an abundance of campaigns hoping to get their healthy lifestyle message across, they alone appear unable to tackle some of the underlying causes of this health crisis. “Beyond getting fit and eating healthy, we also must address income, education and access to health care,” Mark Schoeberl, executive vice president for advocacy at the American Heart Association, tells U.S. News & World Report.

good evening, brno!

What People Want

Higher education is expensive any way you slice it, but prohibitively so in the world’s most developed countries. Start thinking about tuition, books, rent and all those coffees, and the dream of a college degree might soon seem like it will have to stay just that. The concept of universities as playgrounds of the elite, especially institutions that are outrageously wealthy, has become such a contentious issue across the globe that it has ignited student protest movements demanding free education from Chile to South Africa.

Tokyo skyline at Night

Where There’s a Problem . . .

There’s an opportunity. At least for some. Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city, has seized the opportunity to tackle educational challenges by reinventing itself as a center for academic excellence. And it’s going pretty well. The city with a population of less than 400,000 people is home to a surprising 13 universities, which attract thousands of international students (and their cash). Brno has become so successful that on some rankings, it lands among the top 10 cities most favored by students looking for a fun, cool (and affordable) place to attend college.

Girl Power!

Brno’s success as a research and innovation center has even earned it the label the “Czech Silicon Valley.” Great, right? Yes, especially if you are a man working in tech. Women, on the other hand, have had a harder time breaking into this traditionally male-dominated field. And yet the fight is on: Dita Formankova, founder of Czechitas, a nonprofit organization, has been working with thousands of women and girls in the country to ensure the gender gap can soon be consigned to the history books.

mobile knowledge in chiapas

Chiapas

The stunning Mexican state, home to the Indigenous Mayan people and a magnet for international visitors, is also one of the most marginalized in the country. Can you guess what that means for education? Well, the majority of children do not finish their upper-secondary education, let alone have regular access to a computer, a phone, tablet or even internet to help with their homework.

Good Ol’ TV

When the pandemic hit Chiapas, things soon got worse for its kids. In a bid to ensure they had a venue to continue their education, the government proposed a retro solution: turn to TV sets. The idea was simple: Find teachers to stand in front of the camera and deliver a lesson, then air the broadcasts to communities in Chiapas and across the country. But there remains one small problem. Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, and TVs are not as common as one might think (yes, really). In addition, kids can’t complete their homework without internet access, which is extremely limited for those with fewer resources.

Local Problems, Local Solutions

Faced with these challenges, parents and teachers in Mexico’s most marginalized state did what they do best: They took matters into their own hands. In Chiapas, Fray Antonio Alfaro, a teacher who has made a crusade out of ensuring children are educated, retrofitted his old van with an antenna, Wi-Fi and books and started driving around to the state’s most vulnerable areas to help children with their homework assignments. “I took on the task of starting to help them so that they would feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Alfaro told the Monterrey Daily Post.

Future of Graffiti: Wanna Tag Along?

Who doesn’t love to leave their mark? Whether with words or images, we humans are obsessed with sharing our mind’s eye. Centuries before Twitter or Twitch, the ancient Greeks and Romans communicated by writing messages on bar walls. Get this: The word “graffiti” actually comes from the Greek “graphein.”

Now, from American teenagers artfully tagging city walls to postmodern artists banking millions from murals, graffiti remains a form of expression without equal.

But things are changing. With local governments and companies moving in on the most Insta-friendly walls and writers aching to stay true to their art, what does the future hold for these impermanent pieces?

Today’s Daily Dose takes you on a fascinating journey alongside the unsung can- and brush-wielders you need to follow, introduces the places where “wall bombing” is a matter of life and death and shows you how to become an expert graffiti snob.

the writing’s on the wall

The Anonymous God

Think graffiti, and Banksy is the first name to pop into your head, right? The superhero of today’s street art scene has gone from spraying walls in his native Bristol, England, to selling a canvas for a record-breaking $12 million. Known for his in-your-face political, antiestablishment messages, the mystery man is also credited for making street art mainstream (think the girl with a balloon and the two police officers kissing). Alas, he says he’s not in it for the fame or the cash. “All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars,” the elusive artist once told author Tristan Manco.

Rule of the Spray Can

With millions of spray paint cans brightening (or defacing) our city streets, the looming question remains: Is graffiti legal? The answer isn’t straightforward. In most cases, it depends on what the piece is and whether it’s been authorized. While some cities are waging a war against wall art in public spaces (authorities in Chicago have even removed commissioned pieces by mistake), others cannot get enough of it. Melbourne, Warsaw and Paris are encouraging artists to claim designated walls in a bid to attract tourists (for the ’gram, ya know?). Pablo Escobar’s native Medellín uses it as a way to engage marginalized youth. Fun fact: Outdoor art murals can help attract people to neighborhoods.

What Makes Good Street Art?

It manifests in many shapes and forms — spray cans, but also paper, glue and stickers. So how can you actually tell what is Banksy-hot and what is not? Australian Fintan Magee, who paints large-scale hyperreal pieces depicting humans in vulnerable situations, says it all depends on the eyes observing it. “From the artist’s perspective, it is about intention and self-awareness,” he tells OZY. “If the artist intends to express a certain idea or image and is able to pull it off, then it’s good work.” For Boneta-Marie Mabo, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait artist based in Brisbane, Australia, the key is in the message an image can convey. “Street art is supposed to be political,” she tells OZY. “It’s supposed to scream at you, to tell you something, but I feel that it has been diluted so much that now it’s just pretty pictures on the walls that make people feel nice.”

If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Join ’Em

What do Gucci, Louboutin and a can of spray paint have in common? They are joining forces to sell you something. Lured by the popularity of brightly painted walls (wasn’t Instagram made for street art?), brands catering to the well-to-do are hiring street artists to paint “mural ads.” Advertising gurus say the high-end industry has come full circle; what used to be considered “underground” now gives established brands an edge in an already saturated social media space. One example is a rooftop collaboration between artist Ben Eine and lighter company Zippo in London as big as 67 tennis courts. But artists are pushing back and warning that “paint ads” have nothing to do with what they do.

the next banksy?

Living Street Art Anna Garforth

Street art can have a positive social impact to be sure, but environmentally friendly it is not. In fact, most products used to create eye-catching pieces are made from chemicals and pollutants that are not particularly good for the air, nor artists’ lungs. So in comes Anna Garforth, one of the pioneers of “green graffiti,” who mixes water, milk, sugar and yes, moss, to create a paste she uses to paint. Her pieces, usually located in darker London alleys or areas with little exposure to natural light (moss doesn’t particularly love the sun) have a life of their own and grow with the seasons. And yes, these ones you can touch.

nextbanksy

Shamsia Hassani

Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. When that woman is holding a spray paint can, the potential threats multiply. But that has not stopped this 33-year-old artist. Her murals, painted on anything from bombed-out buildings to hidden alleys, tend to depict strong women happily going about daily activities such as teaching, singing or working. But look closely and you’ll see their eyes and mouths are always closed, a nod to the broader struggles women face in Afghanistan.

Saner

If Latin America’s rich street art scene was a country, Edgar Flores, better known as Saner, would be its Mexican ambassador. The artist manages to colorfully articulate and combine the splendor of his country’s modern culture with its exuberant Indigenous traditions. His art is so distinct and magnetic, it has crossed his country’s borders, and got him as far as Australia. Flores’ work features the renowned Nahuale masks, which, legend has it, can turn humans into animals. His creations also help bridge the growing gap between our day-to-day lives and the natural environment around us.

Medo Kagonka

Think being a graffiti artist in the back alleys of New York and London is dangerous? Imagine what life is like for a young gay artist in Sudan. Medo Kagonka is one of the faces of the ongoing artistic boom in Africa’s third largest country since mass protests toppled Omar al-Bashir, one of the region’s longest-serving dictators, in 2019. Al-Bashir was not a fan of art and as soon as he left, artists took revenge with their paint cans. Medo’s depiction of a skeletal-looking hand, featuring a tag that reads “missing” painted on the wall of a morgue in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum, is one of the most thought-provoking and inspiring in the city.

from caves to walls to … cash

Cash

The First-Ever Graffiti

Can a painting of a red wild pig made on the wall of an Indonesian cave more than 45,000 years ago merit comparisons to today’s guerrilla art? The image, which includes other smaller animals and human hands, could very well be an ancient form of Banksy, minus the political message. The archaeologists who discovered it this January said that to print it, these early artists would have had to put their hand on a wall and then spit pigment around it. No wonder the technique didn’t make it to our time.

‘Gaius was Here’

Graffiti as we know it today dates back several thousand years, to when ancient Greeks and then the Romans used the walls of their cities as boards to communicate. Just like an ancient form of the internet, they wrote everything from declarations of love (including some pretty raunchy ones), to tourist reviews, threats to enemies and political ads. See the evolution here? We don’t either.

1960s Revolution

Darryl McCray, popularly known as Cornbread, will go down in history as the original modern graffiti artist — and that love was the force behind his work. The story goes that he fell so hard for a girl named Cynthia that in order to impress her, McCray, who loved to print his nickname everywhere, wrote “Cornbread loves Cynthia” throughout her Philadelphia neighborhood. But he didn’t stop there. Cornbread became a household name, tagged to a plane owned by the Jackson 5 and even an elephant in the local zoo. Did he get the girl in the end? You betcha.

BB (Before Banksy)

Long before the British artist became synonymous with street art, there was the legendary Brooklyn-based Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring (remember those fuller stick figures?) and Blek le Rat, the father of stencil graffiti and Bansky’s most obvious influence. These three held the key to a politically charged era when scribbles on public walls evolved into a form of revolution. Found in dark back alleys in the 1980s, the work of these artists is today exhibited alongside well-known art legends. A piece by Basquiat, who died in 1988 at age 27, broke the record in 2017 for the highest-selling piece of any American artist at an eye-watering $110.5 million.

Power to the Can

As in the distant past, what we choose to paint on walls often serves as a mirror with which to highlight the pressing issues of the day. From George Floyd-inspired graffiti in places as diverse as Kenya and Syria, to depictions of nurses and doctors dressed as angels and superheroes, and politicians struggling to make sense of it all, it’s an essential form of political commentary. “Artwork, even street art which is not permanent, plays a part in society, in culture and in history because it can paint a picture or tell a story about a particular time and place,” says Mabo, who painted a mural in a Brisbane locale infamous for its racist history with colorful birds representing Indigenous peoples and colonizers as rabbits, a pest introduced to Australia by Europeans.

did you know?

Some Nazis Liked Wall Art

Could a mural of burning green creatures on an Ohio Air Force base be the closest the Nazis got to self-reflective supernatural allegory? A giant painting in what was the dining area of a camp for German World War II prisoners of war is one of the last remaining clues. The 160-foot-long piece, with demonic-looking characters with toothy grins, is believed to represent German culture going up in flames at the time. But no one really knows for sure.

Graffiti Can Be Lethal

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is popular as a subject among political graffiti artists around the world, but the communist leader is not a fan of such creativity at home. In October, he had the handwriting of an entire neighborhood’s residents checked to track down the author of a rare piece found on a fence in Pyongyang. The Cinderella-style search sought the person behind “Down with party officials, who live well by exploiting the people.”

Graffiti Is Hard to Preserve

Street art is not made to last forever. Think about what would have happened to Picasso’s Guernica if it had been painted on a wall in New York City’s Times Square. But the increasing popularity of the form and its significant profitability have made scientists come up with new (and environmentally friendly) ways to protect it. Some in the Big Apple are testing trailblazing techniques that remove upper layers of paint without damaging the original pieces. Long live street art!