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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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BFTP: Today's realization


The lesson of the Ngong Hills

One of my tasks at the Learning2.014 conference was to present a Learn2Talk. Rather than offer up the traditional keynotes, each Learning2 Leader was asked to prepare about five minute TEDTalk-style presentation and during the conference and then three or four of these talks were given during general sessions. The were uniformly individual, passionate, entertaining, and meaningul. Wow!

I was lucky and got to give my Learn2 Talk the first day of the event. But rather than give a speech, I told this story (a bit embellished, to be sure):

A tour guide in Nairobi told me this tale about how the Ngong (Knuckle) Hills came into being.

A giant once ravished the land. The animals of the savanna were determined to get rid of it. The big animals went in first: the elephants, the rhinos, the lions. Each in turn were soundly trounced.

That night all the ants gathered and decided each would carry a few clumps of dirt and place them on the giant while he was asleep. By the next morning the giant was buried so deeply that he never rose again. All that can be seen today are the protruding knuckles of one hand – the Ngong Hills.

Who can make the most improvements in education: The Department of Education or all teachers making small changes? (Machines are the Easy Part; People are the Hard Part.)

I've used this story as a closer for many keynotes I'd given, and it felt right using it here in east Africa, not all that far from where I first heard it. Several people from Kenya approached me afterwards, thanking me for sharing the tale.

And despite some research a few years ago, I had never discovered a written version of the tale, so I was beginning to imagine I had somehow dreamed it up. But two people at the conference - a native Kenyan and a longtime expat resident said they had heard a similar version of the story.





Rorschach test of educational priorities: your school library

I visit quite a few schools and one of the first places I visit is the library/media center/learning commons. For me, it's a quick Rorschach test of a school's values and climate.

The picture above is the elementary library at the International Community School (ICS) in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Even at a quick glance, I can tell by looking at this facility that this is a school I'd be happy to have my grandchildren attend. The library:


  • has kids in it. Productive, engaged, kids using the library's print and technology resources.
  • looks to have a well-stocked collection of carefull chosen books.
  • has a warm and inviting atmosphere, with colorful and fun furniture and wall decorations.
  • has a staff that was available, friendly, and helpful to me as a visitor and to the students themselves.


This tells me that the school values children's personal interests. That it balances technology with print literacies. That it recognizes that not all learning has to be at a desk in a group with 24 other children, all facing the same way. That it knows there are other ways to improve reading scores and test results than drill, test prep, and programmed instruction. 

And that a love of learning is as important as skills and knowledge.

Maybe I am reading too much into a ten minute visit, but I'm pretty good a first impressions. And ICS made a good one.