We caught up with some of the participants and mentors involved with Samsung’s ‘Not a School’ to discuss what they took away from the experience.
For the past four weeks, Samsung’s unique experience space in Coal Drop’s Yard has played host to a series of educational talks and workshops with a difference. The Samsung’s ‘Not A School’ programme has provided an alternative vision of learning, where participants and leaders work together in a dynamic capacity, to explore what happens when we think differently about the current environment that we exist in.
Throughout its hugely successful run, over 40 young people have collaborated with a team of experts, facilitators and innovators from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. The aim has been to reimagine what the future can look like: equipping a cohort of young people with the skills they need to tackle the challenges of the next 50 years. From communicating effectively, to thinking about sustainability, the focus has been on setting the next generation up with the tools they need to change the world.
With the course now concluded, we caught up with some participants and leaders to discuss the main takeaways.
For young musician Gabrielle, her decision to apply for the programme in the first place came from a desire to learn differently. “It looked like it would be breaking down barriers between traditional education and creative education,” she says. “It was a really cool opportunity to explore different topics in an unconventional environment.”
This unconventional environment applies in part to the physical space, but also the atmosphere inspired by the team of mentors. Underneath course leader Charlie Dark, the speakers engendered a mood of exploration and collaboration. Critical Designer Andriana Lagoudes, who led sessions alongside edu-tainer Reuben Christian, explains that this was central to how she approached Samsung’s ‘Not A School’. Her first priority, she says, was changing the way people think about thinking.
“I wanted to make them realise it’s not that deep,” she continues. “If they want to do something they can grab a pen and start working on whatever concept they think needs to be worked on.” Secondly, she adds, she wanted them to see the people around them not as competitors, but as community members. “I wanted them to know they are not alone... that all the participants were their cohort. They were a collective, all they had to do is ask.”
For Lara, a participant with ambitions of becoming an actor, it was this community of like-minded young people that inspired her the most. “It was incredibly special to be around young, creative people who want to be in this world but don’t know what path to take,” she explains. In her eyes Samsung’s ‘Not A School’ encouraged her to see this uncertainty about the future differently, providing her with the tools to feel more confident. “We had such amazing speakers,” she adds, “and for all of them I was sat with a notebook. You realise how little you do that: sit, listen and process information… then learn how to use it in your own life.”
Lara’s experience highlights the best of what Samsung’s ‘Not A School’ set out to achieve: empowering young people. For critical designer Akil Benjamin, who led sessions on subjects diverse as designing new ways to get elderly people online to creating furniture from packaging, this meant going further than speaking and listening. “We were world-building into the future,” he says of his sessions. “I wanted the young people to experience a new way of doing or being… There’s no point if you’re just sitting around theorising.”
The impatience he hoped to inspire during his Samsung’s ‘Not A School’ sessions is something he sees as essential, beyond education and into the future. “Whoever gets tired first is the person who is going to bring change.” It’s a sentiment that chimes with Andriana, who sees frustration with the “way things are” as a motivation to build communities and make things happen. “I have a very optimistic world-view,” she says. “I see a future where people are enabling each other’s agency to take what they want in life.”
Nothing speaks to the success of Akil, Andriana and the other ‘Not A School’ mentors in inspiring this vision, than the responses of the participants themselves. For Gabrielle the course has left her with something very tangible: a plan. “I’ve always wanted to be involved with orchestras but as a woman-of-colour didn’t really see a space for myself,” she explains. “It was while at ‘Not A School’ I realised what I want to do. I’m going to start an all-woman ethnic minority orchestra.”
It’s a dream, and an energy, that indicates just how big a mistake it would be to underestimate the power of young people, and their appetite for change. As Lara puts it: “This new generation are a force to be reckoned with. The fact that Samsung’s ‘Not A School’ was focussed on creativity, finding your niche and how you can affect the world, left me feeling very positive about the future.”