The Talent Laboratory

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
18 December, 2018
Editorial: 264
Fecha de publicación original: 24 abril, 2001

Those that walk with honey get some stuck on them

This week I had the privilege of participating in a unique, extraordinary and strange event: The 5th International Education Congress (5º Congreso Internacional de Educación) held in Córdoba, Argentina, from 18 to 22 April. What made it unique was the impressive list of speakers, 18 of them altogether, headed by modern-day prophets such as Alvin Toffler, philosophers like Fernando Savater, entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus, director of the Grameen Bank, “shared intelligence” experts such as Derrick de Kerckhove, or experimental musicians like Stephen Nachmanovitch. Just a couple of those names would have been enough to justify a three-day conference in Europe and cause a sensation in the media, both press and television, for a week. What made it extraordinary were the more than 4,600 teachers (80% of them women) from all over the country that attended the congress. Both morning and afternoon they filled the enormous hangar, which could have housed three or four Jumbos, and the numerous marquees erected all over Córdoba’s Pajas Blancas Complex, listening to the speakers or attending the dozens of workshops, on a wide range of subjects of great concern in the field of education and run by teachers, experts, researchers and technicians from both inside and outside the country. What made it strange was that there was hardly a journalist to be found anywhere. The Argentine media gave this monumental event and the debates that took place there, very little coverage. Nonetheless, it was an event that will, undoubtedly, make a great impression on the evolution of education in the country and many other debate areas related to the Knowledge Society.

Argentina is going through hard times (“almost an entire age”, as one teacher put it). Changes in the economic orientation of the country imposed by new Economics Minister Domingo Cavallo have created a considerable feeling of uncertainty. Declining production and productivity, almost zero job creation, the long winter of salary freezes and, in short, an economic recession exacerbated by a foreign debt of more than 150,000 million dollars, have created a situation which analysts and the press describe as desperate and difficult to find therapy for, no matter how much we think of Argentina as a country with an excess of psychoanalysts. Something one notices when talking to people is how quickly they express their anxieties about the country’s and their own personal prospects

And if there is one sector that is particularly hard done by in this sense then it is surely the education sector. Lack of resources, low salaries, a feeling of having been abandoned to their fate by administration and a long period of having their self-esteem severely dented as a result of the way teachers are viewed by society, has made it very difficult for the education system to blossom despite the country’s inherent potential, on the one hand, and the enormous possibilities new technology, when applied to education, have to offer. Promises of equipment and connecting schools sound almost like a bad joke in a country where just having enough chalk, for instance, can be a problem.

So, given this state of affairs, the content of the congress in Córdoba was even more unique extraordinary and strange. The audience managed to transcend their personal and public difficulties and create an incredible atmosphere of enthusiasm, the likes of which I have never seen at meetings of this kind before. Spurred on by this extraordinary flow of energy and the obvious desire to overcome obstacles, however big or small, by those attending the conference, the speakers offered a unique and complex vision of the present situation in many, traditional or new, knowledge fields, of the changes that are occurring, of the different speeds at which technology and the mind operate, and, consequently, the cultural obstacles that prevent the renovation of organisations, the reassigning of resources in accordance with new horizons and the adequate training to enable people to face the challenges, not of the future, but those that are already here.

Under examination were latest developments in philosophy, chaos and complexity theories, the contrast between traditional and new methodologies for education, the impact of online education, the tensions that arise between the word and the audiovisual, the worlds that palpitate in the radio-electric environment, the importance of the word in a world that is drifting towards the audiovisual, the role of literature and art in new projects, the dialectic between passion and provocation during the innovation process, the value of self-exploration in generating breakthrough ideas or the vital importance of conversation to dissolve walls in these worlds. Each of the talks was attended by a minimum of 2,000 people all very keen to find ways of relating to the ideas and experiences expressed despite the fact that they were very often wrapped up in not very accessible, complicated technology. Something of this nature occurred with my talk on “Networked Education” where despite the fact that less than 10% of those attending were connected to the Internet, they stuck to the need to try and find ways of creating education networks whether computers are available or not.

So, who was behind such an impressive event? Hugo Diamante, “cultivator of rarities with a hungry mind for learning”, according to his visiting card. This young man from Catamarca is the director of one of the most innovative projects in the Spanish-speaking world: Talent Lab, a laboratory for human talent. Having organised previous congresses in Catamarca, one of the poorest provinces of Argentina, Diamante foresaw that this years congress was getting too big and transferred it to Córdoba in the centre of the country. This enabled him to simultaneously organise the first Talent Lab meeting of 300 businessmen, who enjoyed the added opportunity of conversing and listening to many of the speakers at the education congress.

What happened in Córdoba is a clear indication that networks change cultural parameters as we have so far understood them. Neither the US nor Europe would be capable of organising an event of this size with such intelligently selected content, and destined to make an enormous impact on the emotions of entire groups of people who feel buffeted by complex changes, whose origin no-one is really sure of, nor whose destination is clear. Although the media said nothing or very little about the Córdoba meeting, I am convinced that we all felt very privileged to attend a unique meeting destined to change the face of the social organisation map by taking a different approach to knowledge generation and inspiring ground breaking discussions that sweep away the fusty old ideas we still have at present.

The meeting in Córdoba goes straight to the heart of discussions on the “digital divide”, the difference between rich and poor and what opportunities the Third World is afforded in a networked world. Confronting those that make the ideological barrier of money the dividing line in the world, people like Hugo Diamante is putting his finger in the wound to rediscover the organisational and dynamic values of social innovation, ideas that are accompanied by passion, emotions and perceptions of oneself and others in networked communities that cross and break down the borders that kept knowledge and social status tied up. Like his organisation Talent Lab, whose network has cast its refreshing shadow all the way from its small office in Catamarca to the chief research and decision-making centres in Latin America, the US, Canada, Europe and parts of Asia. Diamante obviously doesn’t believe in predestination. He does not believe for one moment that societies on the periphery of the Industrial Society have to play the same role in the Knowledge Society. And, like many others, he is determined to show how false this idea, so popular amongst do-gooders in rich or poor countries alike, really is. The 5th International Education Congress was a step in this direction.

Translation: Bridget King