Educating Children for Their Future, Not Our Past - an Interview with Joel Josephson

Nourishing Creativity in Education

Joel Josephson - TEDx speaker, founder of award-winning project PopuLLar, and Kindersite.
Joel Josephson - TEDx speaker, founder of award-winning project PopuLLar, and Kindersite.


Here is the next one of inspiring interviews with creatives who reveal exciting details of their journey and what it took to make things happen.


Meet Joel Josephson - a TEDx speaker, CEO and project director of Kindersite in charge of innovation, communications and Internet.


Joel reached out for me after reading the interview with Dr. Geoff Crook which had been passed to him by a former student of Geoff's. It's a small world, isn't it? And it turned out Joel had been partnering with a school in my home city Sofia, Bulgaria! WOW, right?


Join us on a discussion about creativity in children's education - what methods to use effectively to enhance, and not to suppress in-born creativity, how to prepare our children for their future, but not for our past, and more!

Interview questions:

  1. Hello, Joel! Thank you for agreeing to take part in Just How Cool Is That?!, the website for creatives share and learn about the Journey and ways to be a successful creative!
    You have taken part in a number of creative projects regarding primary and secondary education. How long ago did you first start, what were your motives and what were the greatest gatekeepers of the existing education system?

    Firstly, thank you for this opportunity to air my views on creativity in education.
    I first started because of my children. I was working as a high tech consultant at the beginning of the dot-com boom and at the same time had my children.
    I quickly saw that although there were many examples of content for small children, most were of very poor quality. I drew the best content together, games, stories and songs on to a website, called the Kindersite which became quite a draw, with 20,000 schools in 150+ countries using the site.
    This high profile led to the site being ‘discovered’ by a group that were putting together a team for a European education project proposal. This was in 2003. The project got funded and I then initiated or was invited to join further projects.
    I have now completed over 30 projects.

    As for the last part of your question - interesting choice of words, gatekeepers. I would have called them ‘Revisionists’ and they are at every level of education: Ministers, Ministries, administrators, teachers, and of course the situation varies enormously across the globe.
    Finland is a shining star, doing just about everything right and getting the best results on the planet, in most cases. Interestingly, this doesn’t cost the earth; their spending per pupil is mid-range for OECD nations. They just produce good results using a child centred approach.
    In the UK we have government ministers who appear to be of the opinion that because their education, in a private, segregated and elite school, was highly successful in helping them become a minister, then they should emulate that system through all schools in their jurisdiction.
    Obviously a kid in the slums of Manchester does not need the same education as the privileged few; they do not face the same smooth path as a minister.

    We also have administrators and teachers who have difficulties in changing their educational practice, although in recent years more and more see that education must change, but at least in the UK, they cannot change as their hands are tied by the structures from above.
  2. What are some of the greatest challenges in modern education that need to be revised? Is there anything in particular in education today that you believe is a direct barrier to achieving good results?


    To stop educating and start letting children learn. Which means, to allow children to learn because they want to, stop force feeding, respect their lives and needs. Realise that children can teach each other, collaborate autonomously.
    The teacher’s role is a facilitator, guide, support to the knowledge that is already on the Internet and can be found. The only thing we need to teach is ‘How to learn’.

    Among many complaints, and I’m allowed complaints as I work every day to try to make better, are three things preventing better results:

    1. Testing of children

    2. Homework

    3. Resistance to technology


    • Testing:
      It is not only a waste of time, but actually damages children’s education, placing immense stress on them and the teachers to produce results, subjugating learning to teaching to the test. Testing is not about the children’s education at all, but about measuring teachers' work. Which is inherently a complete lack of understanding what education is about and for. In Finland, where the best results in the world are obtained, there are no tests until mid-teen years, they are too busy educating the children to have time for the distractions of testing.

    • Homework:
      It brings a child’s work in to the home. We don’t do it to our work-forces, why should children be an exception? Why should parents then have to stress their children to complete their homework? They are not educators. How ridiculous that a child comes home and the second statement from the parent, after greeting, is:
      ‘Have you got homework?’ 
      In addition, there has not been a single study globally that proves that homework increases results.

    • Resistance to technology:
      I was amazed that in a Facebook group called ‘Innovative teachers of English’, a post that asked teachers what should be done with mobile phones in the classroom, most of the teachers responded:
      "Locked away".
      Admittedly, many of the teachers responding are from Asian countries, where cultures may be different, but not all at all.
      I took the real innovators in the group to argue why mobile phones are a brilliant tool for the teaching of a language, allowing audio, visual and text, perfect. Technology enables so many new and effective ways to teach, plus the students live technology! It is their world, we must be in their world, not asking them to regress to ours - or. as I say,
      ‘Educate children for their future, not for our past’.


  3. Tell me more about your award-winning project PopuLLar.  It is quite ambitious. How many people and countries are involved in it? Where does your funding come from? How did you receive the Medea Award?


    PopuLLar came out of watching my early teen girls and how they and their friends were using the Internet and music, especially. I wanted to find a project where their passion for music could be included in their education. Thus began PopuLLar, which uses music, video to help in the learning of languages. Schools are still joining the project and thousands of students have now used the project in countries all across Europe, Turkey, North Africa and the USA.


    The European project was funded under the Lifelong Learning programme and had 7 partners from 6 countries, UK, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Czech Republic, Spain and included universities, school and specialists in video.


    We entered for the Medea prize by completing the entry form and were one of 6 winners that year.

  4. How did you decide on the name PopuLLar? What’s behind the 2 capital L-s in the written form?

    That comes from my twisted logic. I wanted to find a way of including the words Popular (pop music) and Language Learning (LL) in the title. I bet you’ve worked it out already, Pop u LL ar.

  5. Autonomous collaboration between students and teachers’ support (when needed) are the main pillars of your approach. How does it improve children’s creativity?


    Everything creative comes from linking, upsetting the norms, communicating and being prepared to be wrong and either having someone show you where you were wrong, or to be able to self-correct.


    There is a dichotomy though.
    Lack of knowledge allows unrestrained thought, stepping outside the bounds and walls of a discipline, and has sometimes allowed freedom to be creative.
    On the other side knowledge also allows a deep and more complete understanding of a subject, but also often leads to introspective thinking that will not permit creative ideas.

    If we allow collaboration, without the penalty of being wrong, between knowledge and lack of knowledge, then the less knowledgeable will throw out ideas that will challenge the thinking of the knowledgeable, requiring real thought by the knowledgeable to challenge or even possibly accept as relevant and useful.

    One of the reasons that has been put forward as the driver of the massive technology and scientific advances we are making, is that communication across disciplines and communities is now so easy and widespread.


    Coming back to the children at school scenario, autonomy allows the students to be free of the tyranny of classroom disciplines, of being wrong or right, but to try and fail without penalty, and the other children will pick up from one to another to get to the best conclusion.
    I have seen groups solve Maths problems that are difficult for their age, and every group managed to solve the problem - not just the group formed of the best students.

  6. Is the approach applicable to all subjects? Are certain areas more likely to benefit than others? How does evaluation of projects happen in this system?


    There are two separate questions here, firstly about subjects. We have used a similar approach for languages, the environment, Maths, and we hope we will be funded for a project on Biology soon. I have no reason to think that the approach cannot be used in all fields.

    As far as evaluation goes, within our projects, we test the projects and resources we produce before arriving at final versions for use by all schools that are interested. Post project and within the resources we produce and include evaluation points for the teachers to check on progress. We also include guidelines, for example, we tell teachers that if the project produces videos, the quality of the final video is irrelevant, as it is the process that is important and where learning will occur, and soft skills enhanced.

  7. What creative fields interest you? (Writing, painting, music, acting, video, else?)Which ones have you practised, which ones do you still like doing, and which ones are on your to-do list?

    When I was at school
    I tried violin, it was lucky for the world that I stopped early.
    I have painted a little and really should again.
    I also write, nothing published, I haven’t tried.
    Sometimes reflections, a couple of children’s stories (The Huge Man is available on Amazon), and some rather salacious stuff that is about lust, but I’d better not mention that (Meg's note: I found that one on Amazon, too! :D ).

  8. Which part of your work do you enjoy most and which part do you dislike most?


    Of course, the initial idea generation is always exciting and requires numerous messages and conversations with my colleagues about the ideas. The start of a project is always interesting, working with new people, arguing the shape of a project. Initial piloting results in schools and seeing what the children produce is very exciting too.

    I don’t like compromises for perceived rules, bureacracy (I prefer to spell the word incorrectly, doesn’t deserve correcting), and, egotistically, being proven right and not being able to say:
    "See? I told you!"


  9. Give me an example from your practice when you managed to turn failure to success: What compromises did you have to make? Did it turn out better or worse than you initially imagined? What were the learning outcomes for you and your team?

    When things go wrong within a project, it is usually one partner that has failed.
    The other partners than have to rally round and complete the tasks allocated.
    The solution is quite simple: choose your partners and colleagues very carefully, and realise that experience and documents don’t mean everything.
  10. How do you picture yourself 5 years from now? What would your ideal situation be?


    I am currently working on a new project which I need my local municipality to back. I had a meeting with the Lord Major recently and I am now waiting for the next step. The Mayor was very positive, so I am hopeful.

    But my ultimate goals include two ideas:

    1. A university course for non-specialists that will be able to bridge the gaps between different fields of knowledge and find new creative ideas within the gaps

    2. A special global conference


  11. What is your final message to anyone reading this?


    Don’t read this!

    I was once asked in an interview: how I would like to die.
    Not the most tasteful of questions.

    My answer:

    I’d like to die last, and I promise to turn off the lights.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! It's been lovely having you here!


Again, thank you very much for having me, Meg! It's been really nice!

Joel Josephson Today

Joel Josephson - CEO & Project Director of Kindersite
Joel Josephson - CEO & Project Director of Kindersite

My main responsibilities as a CEO and Project Director of Kindersite are innovation, communications and Internet. The Kindersite is always happy to look at new projects in education or social needs; especially where experience in international projects is needed.

I am currently involved in:

Vidumath - helping students love to learn Mathematics, and

Signs for Handshakes which aims to improve the opportunities for deaf young people in the labour market.

Upcoming projects: Acting stories, vidubiology, Diversity Ball (Chester), WISE conference

People can call me on +44 07956 942177 or e-mail me on


You can get my books The Huge Man and Lust and Other Stories on Amazon.



Have your say!

  • How old did you start school?
  • What were your most stressful moments at school as a child?
  • Do you believe homework and testing improve overall results?

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