From March 26th through April 5th the AERO team participated in the International Democratic Education Conference in Israel. This was the 5th time the IDEC has been in Israel, where the IDEC started in 1993 with a meeting organized by school founder Yaacov Hecht at the Democratic School of Hadera.
The situation with democratic education in Israel is truly off the charts compared to other countries. There are now thirty public or semi-public democratic schools in Israel. The Democratic School of Hadera, site of the first two days of the conference, now has 500 students in its dramatically reconstructed building site, and will go to 800 next year. There were an estimated 3000 attending on those days, including students, staff members and parents from the other democratic schools around Israel. At an opening ceremony the mayor of Hadera said they plan to construct a 4th democratic school in Hadera with a goal to have 100% of its students in democratic schools. These are schools in which students have a say in the governance of the school and freedom to pursue whatever they are interested in studying.
Famed researcher Sugata Mitra participated in the IDEC throughout the course of the 5 days. He won the TED Prize in 2013 for his "Hole in the Wall Project," in which he placed a computer in a wall of a slum and the students taught themselves to use it, including learning English. He replicated the experiment throughout India with the same results, eventually creating the "School in the Cloud." During the opening session he painted a picture of the world 20 years from now, pointing out that 20 years ago there was no iphone, no Facebook, no Twitter, etc. The point was that, with an accelerated information curve we can hardly imagine that future and certainly don't know how to prepare students for it, except by making sure they are creative self-learners. Mitra keynoted AERO's 2015 conference.
Coincidentally, just as the conference was starting, computer students at the Democratic School of Keshet won a country-wide computer competition against 800 other schools. This was in spite or because of the fact that the school has no computer teacher. The student team taught themselves! This was big national news, featured in many news outlets. Later in the conference the winning team did a workshop with Sugata Mitra about their exploits. They just sent us an exclusive article, written by the students, about their adventure, featured below! .
The attendees at this year's IDEC were from 30 countries! It included many former IDEC organizers such as Kageki Asakura (Japan 2000), Marko Koskinen (Finland 2016), Cecelia Bradley (Australia 2006), Chloe Duff (England 2011), Tae Wook Ha (Korea 2014), Verena Gruner (New Zealand 2015), Ana Yris Guzman Torres (Puerto Rico 2012), Henry Readhead (Summerhill, England 1999). It also included Ramchandra who hopes to host an IDEC in Nepal in 2020. Next year's IDEC will be in India, co-organized by Saumya Sharma-Meier. Remarkably, the IDEC is not an organization. Each year a different school agrees to host the IDEC upon attending at least two IDECs and agreement with the attendees at an IDEC. Yet there have been several spinoffs, such as the European Democratic Education Community and the Asia-Pacific Democratic Education Community. The annual AERO Conference is a direct result of our hosting the IDEC in 2003. Our 14th annual conference will be in New York August 2-6.
A group of attendees went on a two day pre-conference trip, visiting a progressive school in the Arab city of Nazareth and four democratic schools. The last school visited was the Kanaf Sudbury School in the Golan Heights which, incredibly, has just become perhaps the only public Sudbury in the world.
Several years ago, through our school starter course, we helped start the first democratic schools in Poland. This year there was a big group of Polish attendees. There are now 30 democratic schools in Poland!
Most of the attendees from out of the country stayed at Givat Haviva, a kibbutz and learning center dedicated to peace and cooperation between Jews and Arabs. This is where the rest of the IDEC took place after the first two days at the Democratic School of Hadera.
Hosting the IDEC has often had a profound effect on the country hosting it. The Stork Family School in Ukraine was on shaky ground when it hosted in 1998. It gave them credibility and it continues to this day, more than 25 years since its founding as the first private school in the Soviet Union. Summerhill was under attack when it hosted in 1999. This helped it win its case with the English education department. Democratic schools were illegal when Germany hosted in 2005. The last day was a university presentation. Six years later a third of the attendees of the IDEC in England were from German democratic schools. In 2014 200 parent-organized democratic schools were threatened with closure during the IDEC. We organized an international demonstration in Seoul that was covered by the media, The legislators backed off and the schools are still open.