TUMO: Education for the 21st Century

The Story of Tumo

The Tumo Center for Creative Technologies is a small village on its own. Built on a green hill just outside the city center, Tumo has a gigantic building. Without having made an appointment, Aline, Vachagan and I manage to get in. Anahit — a young British-Armenian woman with a background in human rights — is going to show us around.

As from the moment that you enter the building, the wooden desks catch your attention. It is a busy afternoon at Tumo; behind almost every ultramodern iMac kids, between 12 and 18 years old, are busy training themselves in the Tumo World, an in-house developed learning interface (in English and Armenian) that prepares them for hands-on practice. More than 5500 (!) teenagers are enrolled in this after-school learning environment, and that in only three years time since the foundation.

The kids can choose between four different focus areas: animation, game development, web design and film making. However, Tumo encourages you to develop a multidisciplinary skill set in all of these areas. In this social learning hub, the children are offered the perfect creative environment to start self-exploration, while building the skills of the future.

And oh yes… totally for free.
Tumo is a private and self-sustaining institution. Their revenues are coming from, among others, the rental of offices to media and technology companies that potentially can become partners in their educational mission. Also, they plan to open another Tumo center in Armenia’s second largest city in May 2015 — partly funded through crowdfunding.

According to their interests, a kid picks a building block of learning content — presented in the form of tutorials and exercises— in one of the four focus domains and starts working towards the final project of the two-year cycle. Allowing them to gain even more confidence for the future, the Tumo curriculum offers a set of supporting technical (programming and robotics), artistic (music and photography) and professional skills (collaboration and presentation).

I hear you thinking.
Indeed, their programs don’t sound like a stroll in the park. Although, the teenagers can train themselves at their own pace, spread over two years. Coaches walk around to help and workshops guide them through specific projects. In order to motivate each other, kids present their projects in the open area; everybody’s welcome to watch and learn from their peers.

Sharing knowledge is paramount at Tumo.

Not only the content, but the whole infrastructure is designed to trigger creativity. Kids who found their passion in movie production, music or gaming, can go wild — respectively — in the cinema, the music recording studios or the gaming rooms. Others can see their designs come alive at one of the 3D printers.

The omnipresent cross-pollination at this place already resulted in impressive projects. We have passed the Tumo news lab (a news platform about the everyday life at the campus, created by and for Tumo members), had the privilege to listen to the great music of Pyramidz (an electro band that played for Kanye West two days earlier) and heard about two 15-years-old kids that achieved a giant success with the Android apps they brought to the market.

These under-18-years-old kids don’t have wonder genes; their environment simply unlocks their full creative potential.

International experts travel from all over the world to Yerevan to give workshops in their domain during several weeks — e.g. Associate Editor at Yahoo Travel leading a workshop on ‘digital travel storytelling’. Next to that, on-site inspirational events take place, such as TEDxYerevan and TEDxFor Kids.

The Future of Education

The Tumo management stresses the complementarity of their system to what they learn in school. It’s not their goal to teach kids basic (but highly needed) skills, such as maths or languages. They hope that the acquired Tumo skills will give the teenagers the ability to approach traditional fields from another perspective.

Tumo embodies our vision about how education should look like. We need digital models of learning and teaching. Not just a technology overlay on old models of teaching and learning.

It’s quintessential to recognize hard-to-measure skills like creativity and unstructured problem solving. Skills that will get increasingly important as machines handle more and more routine work.

Let’s not wait for tomorrow — a generation of creative talents may thereby remain partly unexploited. Let’s anticipate on the future today. We firmly believe that Tumo is a first big step in that direction: it’s a private initiative (as our governments unfortunately lag behind in building the school of the future), but still it remains free for everyone, and that’s how it should be.

Tumo in Brussels? Yes, please.

Brussels, with its multicultural character and its international allure, could be the perfect stop for Tumo to anchor its amazing learning environment abroad.

Would there be an even better place to help the creative geniuses of the future growing than right in the heart of Europe? I don’t think so.

Wietse Van Ransbeeck

Millennial entrepreneur. Arts lover. Micro-journalist. Digital nomad. Urban dweller. Feeling at home in Brussels and Tokyo.

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