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Creating a School for Humanity

Featuring Guest -

Raya Bidshahri

Headshot of podcast host.
hosted by: Brandon Stover
December 20, 2021

This interview is part of the series of research interviews on the education crisis and how we can solve it. If you want to hear the other experts, please see our education thesis.

Raya Bidshahri is a serial education entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and award-winning educator, and the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the School of Humanity, a revolutionary online high school with a progressive model and skill-based curriculum. Raya works with governments, investors, EdTech companies, and education providers to ideate and execute revolutionary education models for the 21st-century world. Featured by the BBC as one of the most influential and inspiring women globally, she is a global thought-leader on the future of work and education. Raya is also the Founder of Awecademy, an award-winning organization offering future-focussed & wisdom-based education. She has served on the founding teams of multiple organizations including SciFest Dubai, and SheWorks. She serves as an advisory board member to multiple EdTech companies and is a member of the Bett Future Education Council.

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Scroll below for important resource links & transcripts mentioned in this episode.

what you'll learn in this episode

  • What's wrong with what, where, how, and why we are learning in schools
  • How regulation, higher education, and accreditation stifle education innovation
  • How to create personalized learning for students
  • How an education entrepreneur can go from idea to a full school
  • Why entrepreneurs should tackle problems that really piss them off
  • and much more...

How Raya Believes We Can Push The World To Evolve

I think by starting with ourselves. I think it's really daunting sometimes to think about changing the whole world. It can feel even arrogant to feel like you can and most cases it's not realistic to change the entire world. What you can change is your own actions and the world around you, the people around you. So I think if we all did that in a positive way, the world would evolve.

Selected Links & Resources From This Episode

Connect With Raya Bidshahri:


People Mentioned


  • (00:00) - Introduction
  • (01:19) - Raya's experience in traditional schooling
  • (04:15) - School of Humanity's mission
  • (04:48) - What are the core problems of traditional education?
  • (07:46) - Why is there a lack of personalization in schools?
  • (09:34) - Are traditional schools unethical?
  • (11:32) - How do other stakeholders effect schools?
  • (14:05) - How are the trends from the future of work effecting education?
  • (16:19) - How does regulation stifle innovation in education?
  • (19:42) - What is the School of Humanity and how is it different?
  • (23:04) - What is the purpose of education?
  • (24:23) - How to create personalized learning paths for students
  • (29:06) - What are the 600 skills and competencies learners need in the 21st century?
  • (30:32) - What is existential intelligence and why should students develop it?
  • (33:34) - How to create competency based education
  • (37:38) - How to evaluate skills students are learning
  • (39:48) - A day in the life of a School of Humanity learner
  • (43:27) - How to explain radically new education models to others
  • (46:32) - Results from School of Humanity's model
  • (48:35) - How to build a vibrant online community for learning
  • (53:25) - Can AI help personalize learning in the future?
  • (55:55) - Why entrepreneurs should tackle problems that really piss them off
  • (59:12) - Raya's prior startup Aweacademy
  • (1:00:03) - How an education entrepreneur can go from idea to a full school
  • (1:09:37) - Must hear advice for founders
  • (1:12:06) - Closing


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Raya Bidshahri Interview

[00:00:00] Brandon Stover: Hey, you welcome to evolve the show to help you become a hero and solve the world's greatest challenges. I'm your host, Brandon Stover, founder of Plato University. And I interview social innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers about the global problems we face and the solutions they have created to solve them.

Today's challenge education.

our guest is Ryan an award winning educator and serial entrepreneur and founder of the school of humanity, a revolutionary online high school with a progressive model and skill-based curriculum. She has been featured by the BBC as one of the most influential and inspiring women globally for her work in the alternative education space And today Ryan is going to share her wisdom from her years of experience, designing, leading, facilitating, and scaling educational programs. So we can understand the problems that plague our education system and her solution with the school. If you may. This interview is part of the series of research interviews on the education crisis and how we can solve it. If you want to hear the other experts, please visit evolve the.world/research/education.

you loved learning as a kid, reading science books and whatnot at home, but traditional schooling you said was very frustrating for you. Can you speak to your journey through school and why it made you so frustrated?

[00:01:19] Raya Bidshahri: So what's interesting for me, as I went through the phase of being a strict. And then I went through the phase of failing classes and I experienced both. So up to 11th grade, I was doing really well in school. I tested well, like I, I had the system down. Like I knew what I needed to do to get an a, even if I wasn't actually intellectually enriching myself.

And then after 11th grade, I actually was really lucky to be a young entrepreneur. I was part of the founding team of a not-for-profit science festival. The first of its kind in Dubai. That just became more exciting. I realized, I love learning by doing, I was gaining all of these different skills.

I'm working on some other projects as well, and I just liked doing things. I like working on projects. I like, I just seem more relevant when I was seeing the outcome of the work I was doing. Right. And then my grades took a hit con you know, grade 13, I went to a British systems that we had 13 grades.

I had two D's on my report card, so it was devastating to go from a straight a students who practically a failing students. So that was my experience. But during that time I read voraciously, I've always loved reading. I watched them lost count of how many documentaries I worked on multiple companies and with multiple companies, I learned so much, I was learning so much that wasn't captured.

And that final report card. And that frustration only got exaggerated when I got into university. Once again, there was, I was actively trying to make time to read books. I was volunteering at various labs. I was interning companies. Like I always would over-commit to things just because I enjoyed doing things rather than sitting in lecture halls.

But I was really struggling to be motivated to. Memorize a textbook and take a test or sit through lecture after lecture and cram for exams, I would very much have rather done something much more hands-on and directly be able to see the relevance of my impact on the world. And so this was the background through which this growing frustration at the same time, like any other 20 something year old, I'm trying to find my place in life.

You know, I feel like your twenties are a time when your childhood trauma starts or merge everything you suppressed is now coming out. And I felt like my formal university higher education wasn't giving me the tools to find meaning and purpose and goals in life. And I saw the same with my peers.

Like many of my peers in university were struggling with their mental wellbeing. There were struggling with the stress and they were struggling with a lack of guidance and direction in life. And so that compiled with everything I just described let me to just read. I hated school and I hated university.

I could not wait to be out so much that I found a way to graduate one year early, so I could get out and work on the things I want to work on. And that was ultimately what led towards coming into the education space and really doing something about it.

[00:04:15] Brandon Stover: Before we start diving into the problems of traditional education, can you briefly state what your mission with the school of humanity?

[00:04:22] Raya Bidshahri: absolutely. So our mission at the school of humanity is to really contribute to human progress and push humanity forward through the right kind of education. And we think we can do this through education that is interdisciplinary outcome base that is guided by a desire to better oneself and better the world and where the outcomes and standards and intentions aligned with the needs of humanity in order to ensure we move in a positive direction.

[00:04:48] Brandon Stover: Hmm, well, to help our listeners fully understand the problem from a first principles perspective, what are the core or root problems with traditional education?

[00:04:59] Raya Bidshahri: Well, the way I usually like to break this question down is that there's multiple layers of issues and dimensions of issues with what we're learning in schools, how we're learning it, why we're learning and where the learning is happening. So if we look at each of these, I think there is a, there's a correlation.

With each of these. So in terms of what we're learning, the curriculum itself, the things we choose to focus on in high schools, and to some extent in universities are very much still driven by the industrial era standards. There's a lot of emphasis on information and content and memorization of content.

There's a lot of emphasis on these isolated subjects, which really exist in our minds more than anything. Reality is actually very interdisciplinary. And that's one layer of the issue. You have this what we're learning, we're not putting enough emphasis on the most in demand skills in the workforce, for example, or on interdisciplinary things, or even the key competencies required to find oneself and to find meetings.

In terms of how the learning is happening. If you think about what unites most of education today, despite all the variety of international curriculums and geographic differences there are fundamental features or education systems that are pretty much the same, most places in the world. We organize learners by.

And an ages into the classrooms. We have classrooms, we have lessons right there, usually maybe an hour, a bit longer long we do the semesters. Like I know it sounds like I'm sitting here obviously describing these frameworks of the education system, but we kind of accept these things as a given. But what we're trying to do is say, why, why are we doing that?

Why can't learners progress as a curriculum at their own age, right? Like why can't why can't we learn through a different framework other than courses, for example. So that's an issue with what we're, why, how are learning in terms of why learning is happening to incenses of learning in today's world are largely driven by tests, exams, and standardized tests.

There isn't enough of an incentive of learning happening to fulfill curiosity or learning happening to better oneself and to better the world. In fact, most young people don't even know what that feels like.

[00:07:12] Brandon Stover: Yeah.

[00:07:13] Raya Bidshahri: And that's the real tragedy. And the final thing in terms of where learning is happening, we've unfortunately come to set these kind of boundaries around learning schools and formal institutions are seen as the main barriers of education and learning.

Whereas there's so much of education that happens outside of those formal structures that often goes unrecognized, or it's given a secondary status or less preference because it doesn't fall under those formal structures. So that's another dimension to the layers of issues that we have with the current education system.

[00:07:46] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Can you go a little bit deeper into the lack of personalization that we have for students within the education system now?

[00:07:55] Raya Bidshahri: Absolutely. There's multiple issues with personalize, the lack of personalization when there's a lack of personalization curriculum, and a lot of like international private schools, like to claim that they provide optionality for learners. Like you can choose between all of these different subjects, but really it's still picking from pretty standardized menu.

And once you pick that subject, you learn the same thing that everyone else learns and you're assessed in the same way that everyone else is assessed. And so there's this lack of real. Variety in terms of the journeys that you can take in your, in your curriculum. There is the issue with pace. We set these structures and boundaries around semesters and grade levels.

Assuming that everyone has to move at the same pace. Whereas I might take longer to master sorta numeracy skills, but my move very quickly and communication skills, but I still have to kind of be at the same level as everyone else on my age. So that's another issue. And then the third thing is also a lack of personalization around assessments.

We assess everyone the same way and some learners. Genuinely don't test well under the traditional system, but they're absolutely brilliant if you put them in a different context or if you have them do a project based assessment or a presentation based assessment, or even a conversation based one.

And we're really failing young lines by failing to measure and effectively evaluate their strengths and weaknesses by focusing on standardized paper-based exams that are often very arbitrary measurements of what someone is capable of.

[00:09:34] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I think on both the amount of time it takes somebody to learn something. And then also the assessment front, not only are we holding students back in the current ways that we're doing things, but I think in some cases we're actually punishing them. I'm labeling them. They have ADHD, maybe, you know, giving them now redolent or something.

Because, oh, they were going faster in learning something. So now they're distracting everybody else or yeah. You know, they don't have the right test to actually show the skills that they have.

[00:10:01] Raya Bidshahri: Exactly. I think it's straight up unethical. It's, it's straight up unethical. I mean, and we're seeing this, we're seeing that 70% of students, according to a recent Yale study report, hating school in the United Kingdom, the mental health among students is so in such decline that newspapers like the guardian have an entire section on student mental health.

Like it's a topic that they're actively now reporting on because of how much of an issue it's. And I really believe one of the challenges I see as well with working with learners is often they want to explore all these passions. They want to pursue 21st century skills and expand their portfolio, but they don't have time to do so because the system puts so much emphasis as to give so much importance and way to these exam results and test results that everyone in the system, including the educators and the schools have to prioritize that that comes first.

Like if you want to take a course on Udemy on building virtual reality, like, I'm sorry, but that's going to have to be. Secondary thing because you have to prioritize your exam results. And at the same time, if that's just not what motivates you, you, you know, somewhat excites you because there's really no deeper meaning or transcendental cause behind doing an exam.

It can really contribute to a lack of feeling of a lack of purpose and just overwhelming stress with no real direction or meaning to that stress. So I think it's just straight up unethical what we do, what we do to these students.

[00:11:32] Brandon Stover: Yeah. You mentioned that we need to take, you know, a systems approach to solving education. What other complex systems outside of education are exacerbating some of the problems that we're talking about.

[00:11:43] Raya Bidshahri: so this is something I learned firsthand as, as we're launching school of humanity. We learned very quickly my team and I, that we can't do one thing at a time. We have to kind of, you can't just create a school with. With a whole new model and new way of assessing a new curriculum.

Without, for example, dealing with university admissions, you can't do that then without first also dealing with the accreditation bodies. And then, but in order to get a deal with accreditation bodies, first, you have to get opt-in from families and we need to deal with the parents. And then at the same time, you want to establish industry partnerships and figure out what the industry demands are around high school educator.

So you have government, private entities, parents. So is this entire weapons system of education in place and you can't change one component without dealing with the rest. It's like multiple chickens and multiple eggs on at the same time. And then there's this interplay between the education system and the world at large.

I really do believe that a lot of the issues that we're seeing manifest in today's world can be traced back in terms of the root causes of the problem to the wrong kind of education. And at the same time, you can embed the right kind of solution into the education system to solve a lot of issues in the world.

So one of those things could be you know, we told you were constantly complaining about. the increase of misinformation on the internet, right? And there's this whole debate about free speech versus moderating this information and the vaccine with the vaccine consequences, that's been a huge issue, but really the, the root cause of the issue is a lack of critical thinking.

And a lot of. Information literacy. Most individuals were never taught how to effectively discern between information, misinformation, propaganda, and straight up fake news. Most of us don't have, were never formally taught or practiced analytical thinking skills apply to real world issues. We you know, we're having all of these, some of the lack of competency, and unless we tackle that at its root cause we're always gonna have this issue of masses of people falling for this information.

So that's one example of a problem where you can kind of trace it back to the wrong kind of education, but also embed the solution in our education system, by empowering learners who will think for themselves, but are able to apply scientific literacy to everyday issues, but also think critically and logically irrationally across certain issues.

[00:14:05] Brandon Stover: Yeah. What trends from the future of work are shaping and having an effect on education.

[00:14:12] Raya Bidshahri: Oh a lot. I think I'm really excited actually, so that we can all know the remote workforce is on the rise. Especially those of us in startups COVID was nothing new for us. We, most of us had been working remotely for a very long time, but in the last year it's only accelerated the acceptance and rise of remote work and what some research is showing actually that more and more parents that are working remotely are now seeking that flexibility in the education system for their children.

It's one of the reasons either homeschooling or online schooling or hybrid models are now increasingly popular is because once parents starts experiences different way. Working and contributing value society. They start to rethink those structures for their children as well. So that's one thing. The other is, of course, we're seeing this increasing global skills gap.

So given how slow our education system has been to change and given the constant, you know, acceleration of pace of change in our world we're seeing these, this widening gap between the skills that are currently. Th the workforce and the skills employers are looking for, and that gap is estimated to cost you 20 countries alone, something around 13 trillion dollars.

So it's, it's a constant, it's a growing gap as well. And of course that's putting a lot of pressure, mostly on higher education, but to some extent on K-12 education to really rethink the curriculum and the kinds of skills that we're equipping learners with. The other, the last point I'll add with regards to the future of work is around automation.

What we're seeing with technological automation is the tasks that are routine monotonous, mechanical, repetitive are most easily taken over by machines. So that's changing the kinds of roles the people are doing. It's redefining.

[00:16:02] Brandon Stover: Hmm,

[00:16:02] Raya Bidshahri: And that's putting again, pressure on us and education and a good way to focus more on higher order thinking, creative thinking, strategic thinking, interdisciplinary thinking the stuff that machines aren't very good at yet.

And those are some of the trends that are impacting how and what we teach.

[00:16:19] Brandon Stover: Yeah. With some of these needs currently of what's going to happen in the future with the skills gap and the different jobs that we have coming up is you mentioned earlier it being, you know, a heavily regulated space, the education market, has there been a lack of regulation or easier ways to move through that because of these needs that are coming up?

[00:16:42] Raya Bidshahri: Hmm. You know what? I don't think it has. So one of the biggest bottlenecks I've experienced personally, my team has experienced. And you hear complaints about often is this heavy, heavy regulations in the education system, especially with K-12 education. A lot of countries in the world and in the United States, this varies from state to state, but a lot of countries in the world have very strict mandates about who can start a school.

The processes required to start the school and the standards that school has to meet in order to effectively. No, of course any functioning society wants to have quality assurances in place to make sure that anyone who's claiming to provide a quality education and is officially considered a school, is doing certain things right.

To do justice by the site, and to make sure that their children are taken care of. My parents had that kind of security that the government is moderating and making sure things are okay. But some countries have gone as far as you have to teach subject based education. You'll have to use traditional report cards in many regions in the world.

You go, if you decide to revamp things into a skills transcript or a portfolio transcript, which is what a lot of people are saying, we should start doing. Instead, the ministries of education won't attest those. They won't recognize it as a legit transcript because it doesn't look like a traditional subject based report card.

There are all these regulations around how, how often or how many. Students have to be in schools. So the moment you start trying to do hybrid or online first, or giving learners flexibility to come in whenever they want to come in you start breaking the law. So, and then there's curriculum mandates as well.

In some countries, even in some states in the U S there's mandates around, you have to teach X, Y, and Z, and you have to teach up to the standard of that and the standard of English. And if you want it to challenge that and say, you know what, we would like to redo our math curriculum and focus more on practical, everyday math, like financial literacy or data and analytics and make it.

Not everyone needs to know advanced quadratic equations. And we want to make that optional some countries and some states, this really won't allow that it's like everyone has to meet these standards. So all of these different regulations make it so, so, so difficult for someone say, I want to start a new kind of school.

That being said, there are loopholes. A lot of what a lot of people do is they start registering out of states where they get more freedom or out of countries, they get more freedom and they operate as an online first approach. Some countries like Netherlands, as a great example of this, they have an entire category of schools called special schools, and they have a different quality assurance standards for those schools because they're so innovative. And so they've created a whole system to quality assure those schools in a unique way to allow that freedom of education and choice from the parents, but also the innovation to happen on part of the education providers. And so you're seeing a few nice case studies globally, but I think systemically that's probably the biggest bottleneck right now to real change in the space.

[00:19:42] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Well, one of your favorite quotes from Buckminster fuller is you never change things by fighting against the existing reality to change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete. So what is the solution and new model with the school of humanity that you're proposing an opposition to the traditional model that we've been talking about?

[00:20:02] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, I do love that code. I think it captures what we're doing beautifully. So what we've done at the school of humanity and for listeners who aren't aware we've created an online first school where we re-imagined everything. I just described what we learn, how we learn, why we learn it and where we are.

And in terms of what we learn, we've actually created our own unique curriculum. We've created something called a human development standards where we it's, it's kind of like a graduate competency framework, if you will. And we've mapped out over 600 competencies, mindsets and behaviors that we think every high school graduate should have.

And it includes some of the traditional stuff like mathematical reasoning, scientific literacy, and, you know, key communication skills, but we've placed equal emphasis on. New emerging technology, proficiencies, morality, and ethics emotional intelligence, existential intelligence, creative expression. And for us, those things are equally important.

And how learners learn is by embarking on interdisciplinary learning. So an example of an interdisciplinary learning path might be around sustainable fashion or future of medicine or creating virtual worlds. And all of these paths are mapped to these learning outcomes. So we're actively assessing and evaluating whether, what skills the learner is, learning, what mindsets they're picking up along the way what projects they're creating, what connections they're making as they embark upon these kind of interdisciplinary paths, every path is different.

So, you know, on a certain path, you work on different projects as a learner. So that ultimately becomes personalized to you. Another key differentiating factor is there are no grades. We catered to high school students that's between ages 14 to 18, but learners can progress and advance through the curriculum in a really fluid way at their own pace.

We don't box them into certain paces. We just know where they, we want them to end up how they get there. It's up to them. And in terms of where the learning happens, We are an online for school, but we're already in conversations with some big part potential partners. Like we work to move in a hybrid directions or what we call co-learning spaces.

So that learners can continue to kind of have those in-person experiences. And finally, one of my favorite things that we've done is we've completely eradicated summative, standardized paper-based exams. We don't just, we just don't do that. So every skill has its own way of being assessed. And we do this through regular project based what we call on education as formative assessments which are more realistically aligned to how your skills would get assessed in the workforce.

And for us. A more effective way of measuring competencies rather than just relying on one people based tests. But it also means that you can change the incentives of learning, shifting away from this obsession with exams towards I'm learning to better myself and better the world around me, which I find that the whole process is just more engaging for the learners.

And they're just more excited to come to school and to learn when that is why they're going to school.

[00:23:04] Brandon Stover: Absolutely. That's amazing. Well, before we kind of dive into some of those specifics on a high level, what do you think the purpose of education is?

[00:23:12] Raya Bidshahri: I love that question. one of my founding team members and I, Chris you know, he like, he has a great phrase for the education system. He calls it the human development system. And when you call it that it encompasses not just schools and universities, but perhaps training and organizations, informal learning experiences that happen on platforms like mine valley, like all of that is this human development system.

And what I like about that term for it is it has the name of that. The purpose of it is embedded in the name. Really the purpose of education should be to develop better humans and develop us as humanity or as a humanity. And for us, we see it as a way to better serve our species and push humanity towards a positive progress.

And what's interesting though, is a lot of schools will say, that's their purpose, right? They'll say. We're mission-driven or we want to create caring citizens and global citizens, or they'll phrase it in different ways, but we're all trying to say the same thing, but then we do the opposite. And when we come to action, we still fall back to systems and frameworks that orange actually designed to push humanity forward.

So I would say that that's what the purpose of education should be.

[00:24:23] Brandon Stover: a huge component of the school of humanities you know, curriculum and trying to help move humanity forward is integrating challenges that are happening in the world with, you know, a student's interests so that they creates this purpose-driven learning for them. How do you guys integrate those two things and really prepare students to solve these challenges?

[00:24:42] Raya Bidshahri: Sure. So I'm going a little deeper into our learning path. So there's three types of learning paths that Interlake with one another and our programs wonder are these challenge paths where the learning is guided by solving a local or by designing a solution to a challenge. Now, this might be an entrepreneurial solution.

It might be a creative one. It might be a scientific one. It could really be lots of different things. We had these skill paths where you focused on specific co mastering specific competencies. So there might be a skill path on systems thinking right. And you might need to take certain skill paths in order to solve a certain challenge.

And then towards, for the older learners, we also do career paths where they start doing apprenticeships and internships and actually getting real work experience and that being a way of them building up their outcomes. Now, how do we get to that place? So I think what would be useful is if I share a few examples, we just wrapped up our six weeks, summer school, and we had learners from nine countries.

Call it, participating in this program even more, if you count their nationalities, these were just where they were calling in from. And they embarked upon different challenge paths, like future of money, future of medicine, self knowledge, and wellbeing and many more. And so, for example, for the learners under future of medicine pathway different learners pursued different sub challenges.

So one learner was really passionate about pursuing female healthcare, and she narrowed in specifically around diagnosis of endometrial. And she designed a really cool solution that will use biomarkers and other tools to better diagnose it early. And in the process of doing that, she actually learned a lot about anatomy.

She learned a lot about app development. She, you know, holding her communication skills. So there's real hardcore learning that we are assessing regularly happening, but she's doing it in a way that really excites her another example I can give it had one learner on there, the designing space, settlements pathway that basically she, her challenge was around.

How do you make sure, how can we produce oxygen on Mars? And she was designing a robot, a prototype of a robot that would use electrolysis to convert the raw materials on Mars into oxygen. And she was learning. He signed skills, chemistry. She learned a lot of 3d prototyping. She made some really cool videos.

So she posted some awesome communications and branding skills. And these are some really powerful skills to have going into today's workforce. But again, it was done in a way where it was driven by the desire to better the world. And what I will say is that this is not our proprietary pedagogy by any means.

Challenge-based learning is actually a growing movement and the education space. There's lots of great resources on it online. In fact, challenge-based learning. If you just search it, the first website that should come up, challenge this learning the org, I think has lots of examples. Lesson plans, ways that the there's a framework that you can follow.

So I do hope that more and more people actually take that framework and apply it into their schools and classrooms.

[00:27:42] Brandon Stover: Yeah, something I love about this is not only are you allowing these students to learn these amazing skills that they can go forward with. You're allowing them to kind of dive into some of their interests or maybe some of their passions. And if it is something after the, you know, they've done these projects that they want to go further with.

I mean like the person developing the solution to endometriosis, that is something they couldn't later go on as a scientist or as an entrepreneur and create a solution.

[00:28:11] Raya Bidshahri: Absolutely. That's the beauty of learning by doing right. Is you figure out what you like and what you don't like, what skill areas your are your strengths. What, what isn't? One of the frustrations I personally. With my education system, as there was such a sharp contrast between learning about something in a textbook versus actually working in the industry and doing the thing.

So I studied neuroscience but then I worked in a lab and realized I don't like doing neuroscience and like reading about it. I think it's fascinating. It's intellectually stimulating to learn about, but I don't like working in a lab and doing, I'm just not wired to be a scientist. But we don't give learners the opportunity to explore in that way and the traditional system.

And yet we ask them to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. So we make them choose those subjects and pick a major and we make it seem like it's going to be locked in forever. And that's another thing that I think is wildly unethical about the way our system is designed.

[00:29:06] Brandon Stover: Well, you mentioned that you guys have over 600 skills and concepts and mindsets that you're helping learners go through. How did you determine what were the most important skills or in, you know, discover and prioritize those skills?

[00:29:19] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, it was informed by a number of different sources. So we did a lot of research. We looked at reports from OACD world economic forum, even more foresight oriented initiatives, like the millennium project to see what they were predicting as the most critical skills mindsets competencies for the workforce.

And also for, you know, future of humanity at large. So it's very much informed by what the world needs and that sense. But we also, as a team asked ourselves, what kind of a world do we want to.

[00:29:51] Brandon Stover: Um,

[00:29:51] Raya Bidshahri: And what are the characteristics of humans in that world and leaders in that world? And then how do we trace back to specific competencies, mindsets, and behaviors that humans that we would like humanity to have in such a world and that's who really informed the curriculum and shape their curriculum.

And then there's some, and there's also an element of, in terms of numeracy scientific, literacy. Like we looked at what are the core essentials we think everyone should know in order to make sure that whatever path they take afterwards, even if it's going into a stem career or a stem major university, that they have all those essentials to build on.

So that was another layer that informed where what shapes our curriculum.

[00:30:32] Brandon Stover: What does the, now that you mentioned was existential intelligence. Could you explain what that is? And then why it's so important for this.

[00:30:40] Raya Bidshahri: Absolutely. So there is this amazing educational psychologist by the name of Howard Gardner and he kind of really expanded everyone's definition of intelligence by. Proposing this theory of multiple intelligences. Essentially all it posits is as there's different ways of being smart. And he outlined different types of intelligences that also were mapped to Bray in your neuroscience and brain anatomy.

So it's very much informed by research about how the mind works and how the brain works. And some of these intelligences include things like linguistic intelligence. So having, you know, if you're a really good communicator, you're naturally you have highly linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence can setting intelligence movement, visible visual, spatial intelligence.

So there's all of these different ways of being smart. And if you think about it and the traditional paper-based exam based education system, we're really measuring one specific type of. Logical mathematical intelligence. And if that happens to be your strength, great, you're going to do well on those tests.

But for all the other learners that have strengths in the other domains of intelligence, they don't necessarily test well in those contexts. So recently, Howard Gardner actually introduced two new domains to this framework of multiple intelligences. One was pedagogical intelligence, the ability to teach well and dissect things well for others.

And the other was this existential intelligence, which he also says, could be referred to as spiritual until. Examples of, you know, how do you know if someone has hikes essential intelligence learners who naturally ask the big questions? Like, who are we, where did we come from? How did we get here? What is the nature of reality learners who kind of, you know, we do a lot of mindfulness meditation with, with our students.

Some of them immediately get it. They're able to tap into that present moment and be in the here and now and understand that they're experiencing an altered states to what they would normally have in their default mode. Whereas for other learners, despite them having other strengths, they struggle with that.

It takes them a while to really hone in that skill. So that's what we refer to with existential intelligence. Why is it important? So many layers to it. I think it allows us to be more present and mindful. It allows us to take a bigger cosmic perspective, which then allows us to really look at our actions on our planets, on our species.

I also think that at a deep level, we're all searching for something greater and a greater meaning in life. And that includes teenagers and the learners we work with. We're all looking for a transcendental cause and to somehow make sense of this reality that we all find ourselves in and focusing on developing existential intelligence can help find that deeper meaning, find that deeper purpose and also be able to just make sense of everything that's happening with our species at a cosmic scale.

And it's definitely one of my favorite areas of the curriculum, both to learn and to teach.

[00:33:45] Brandon Stover: I think it's a crucial part because you know, with the current education system, as you mentioned some students may not always enjoy learning in a certain way, or they don't feel very motivated to be learning something. And oftentimes that comes, you know, they're not interested in that subject, but they also don't see what the meaning is to them.

And I think if you are able to develop, you know, at an existential intelligence asking those questions, you know, what is my purpose or what is the meaning of life? And they start. Deciding those things for themselves, they then become motivated to go learn the skills and lessons that they need to, to help fulfill that meaning or purpose.

[00:34:23] Raya Bidshahri: absolutely. Absolutely. I think starting with Y is a really powerful principle to go by, and then I love the work Simon Sinai does on that front as well. And yeah, I couldn't agree more.

[00:34:34] Brandon Stover: Hmm. Can you explain to S the competency-based model here at the school of humanity and the student evaluation, you know, how they get evaluated differently, and then how that kind of gets recorded with the student mastery transcript? I think that's something very unique.

[00:34:49] Raya Bidshahri: Absolutely. And once again, the competency-based model is starting to gain momentum all around the world. You're with new types of schools. I believe New Zealand at a whole nation level is moving towards a competency-based model of education, which is, which is awesome. So how it works, it's very much at another word for it as an outcome-based education.

You essentially, as a school, say these are all the competencies we want our learners to master. So you start with the outcomes at a macro level, and then you actually, if you do it well, you give a lot of freedom, if not full freedom for the learners to get to those outcomes in a way that works best for them.

So for some learners, in some schools, it might be okay taking certain courses, but for another learner might be, Hey, I did this internship over the summer that allowed me to meet these competencies. And maybe there's an evaluation system in place that can. That I already had these competencies. Why should I sit through these classes if I already know these skills?

So that's the beauty of the competency based model. It creates an excellent framework through which you can have more curiosity, driven, learning more fluid, personalized learning in a competency-based model. And different schools do it differently. You usually don't take a reductionist approach.

You don't then reduce the learners down to single letter grades and subjects. You instead graduate with a scale transcript of some sort, which shows you at a macro level, that the learner mastered all of these competencies across these different categories. And that's where the mastery transcript comes into play.

So the mastery transcript consortium has this amazing group of schools. Well the consortium that services a whole group of schools, mostly the United States, but not from around the world as well that have competency-based models, but they needed like an alternative form of a report card because traditional report cards don't work for them.

So essentially what the mastery transcript does, it shows you all of the transferable skills that you've mastered. So you have to have mastered a skill for it to have issued to you a mastery credit, and then it displays on your mastery track. And what is also about the mastery transcript as well is it's increasingly starting to get acceptance amongst universities and the United States.

So the consortium is doing a lot of lobbying. They're doing a lot of active work with admissions officers. In fact, they have multiple university admission officers part of the consortium doing regular focus groups with them. And they actually have had lots of cases of learners applying to universities using only the mastery transcript, no traditional report card to supplement it.

And they've got an accepted in some of the leading universities in the U S so it's a, it's an awesome movement. And the last thing I'll add about the mastery transcript is you have the skills that you've mastered, but it's also linked to evidence through a portfolio project. So in many ways it's also a project-based transcript.

[00:37:38] Brandon Stover: Yeah. You mentioned quite a few different types of ways to evaluate skills. How do you determine which way is the best way to evaluate a certain skill?

[00:37:46] Raya Bidshahri: Again, great question. And we don't necessarily have a rigid answer to that. What we try to do is multifold. So depends on the skill. If it's a very human skill where it requires interaction, we might go for a more conversation-based or presentation-based, or even a group collaborative project as a way of assessing that skill.

If it's something very technical. It usually is can you apply the skill to create value? Right? So for more technical skills or mathematical reasoning skills is like more about doing more problem sets or projects where there is problem solving involved. We have such a wide array of assessments, so it can be learner projects that map to certain skills.

It can even be specific tasks or assignments that are learned there. Does which could be essays, creating a video, doing a presentation. It can be something where you recognize you know, we have content partners that we work with, like code academy. So, or Amy for math. It could be that you have to pass their assessments at your own time.

Before we validate it, you have this skill and it's such a wide variety of. And one of the things we told ourselves from the get-go we wanted to do, and we have this as a policy is if a learner comes across in assessment and they feel like they actually have a better way to prove to us that they have this skill.

So imagine, you know, I'm given an assessed assignment to on the something. Systems thinking, let's use that as an example. And for the assignments I have to do a couple of modules. I have to make sure I actually map out a couple of systems like the healthcare system or the financial system to prove that I have an understanding of systems mapping assistance change, but I say, Hey, you know what?

I actually did this course. And I already did. I've done better project. And it shows that I have the skill. Can I just show you that? And we're a bit flexible around that. So we, our assessments are always flexible there. We want it to be meaningful they're project based. But as much as possible, we try to evaluate it the way the workforce evaluates it.

And there's actually some great examples that we can draw from organizations, right? Especially evaluating soft skills that we try to apply at the school.

[00:39:48] Brandon Stover: Nice. I love that. So to help kind of get our listeners to, to see what this learning experience is like. Let's say I was a student enrolling in the future of medicine. What walk us through how you would build my curriculum and what the day-to-day learning experience would look like.

[00:40:04] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. So it depends actually, if you're cause we have four different programs, it depends on whether you're in our four year high school or one of the others. So if, you know, as a student in our four year high school, you would alter you. We get to choose all these different learning paths. It can be challenged paths like future of medicine, or you could focus on specific skills.

And then when you're older, you might start doing internships, but let's say you're coming to the future of medicine. How has given week would look like you have, we have a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. So there's three hours of. Live interactive workshops that happen every day, four days a week, we leave a day open for creative flow and focus.

And on top of that, you also have weekly mentorship sessions with the industry mentor. So as a learner, who's currently doing the future of medicine path. You're going to be on it with a mentor at matched, with a mentor who actually is an expert in medical technology. Next semester, if you embark on it, different paths, you'll have a different industry mentor.

And we also do weekly flourishing sessions. These flourishing sessions are kind of where we cover most of the existential and emotional intelligence. So we deep dive into things like coping with stressors in life characteristics of good friendships and how we want to bring it into our own friendships.

We did sessions on Nikki guy finding purpose and just so many more. There's a lot that we want to cover under the flourishing domain. And so you have a combination of all of these different types of workshops that you do. And essentially what happens is if you're in our F our full-time programs over the course of the six weeks, you go through the challenge based learning framework.

So you start by engaging with the challenge. This is where you just kind of learn about, okay, what are the different trends in medical technology? What was, what are the sub challenges that the health care system that needs to be tackled you then go into an investigative phase. And this is where you start to branch off into your own personalized learning journey, whatever sub challenge under this grand challenge around the future of medicine appeals to you, you investigated. Here we do some systems mapping. We do root cause analysis iceberg model. And then we go into what's the largest chunk of it, which is the act phase where you decide to develop some kind of a solution to the challenge. Now that solution can be anything. It can be a work of art. It can be a technology contribution and really what we, it's what we want it to make sure we do.

It's it's, it's not a high school accelerator, so we're not expecting startups. You can take a wildly interdisciplinary approach or a scientific approach to the solution. And that's where we start to work with the learners individually, during their one-on-one times to map out their own personalized learning playlist, to figure out what skills from those competency frameworks, they have an opportunity to master during, while solving this challenge.

And it's like an ongoing iterative emerging process. The beauty about all of this is the curriculum kind of. The framework, there's no standardized curriculum for future venison, future money, you know, self knowledge of wellbeing, and really emerges out of what the learner is interested in. Now that's just our challenge paths.

Our skill paths have a slightly different framework. We go deep into a specific area allowing mastery of that area, but lots of projects are involved in that. And in our career paths, we work with industry partners. So we work with real companies, real organizations that have challenges. They want to collaborate with the learners on, or they do internships with them and meet learning outcomes.

And in that way,

[00:43:27] Brandon Stover: Yeah. One of the challenges that you spoke of when we were speaking of the problems was trying to get external stakeholders and, you know, like parents and whatnot, to kind of understand what's going on with this model. How do you mark it and describe the school of humanities so that it's unique, but it's not so radically different that people aren't attracted or comfortable with it.

[00:43:47] Raya Bidshahri: Oh, gosh, that's I think the multi-billion dollar question, isn't it. We're actually going through a phase right now. We're working on our new website. I'm kind of working on the lessons that we've learned since we launched just a few months ago. And, you know, with the new, more social proof that we have and more understanding that we have about what learners and families are looking for, where we're actively asking ourselves that question.

Okay. Because on one hand, we are radically different to your traditional school. And it's really important. We believe that families coming in know that and understand that because we're not going, if they have expectations of a certain type of system and curriculum, they're going to be wildly disappointed when they come to the school of humanity.

Because what we do is very different and we do it very differently on the other. You don't want to scoop. Right. You want to ensure that you showcase that you're, you know, we're on the path to international accreditation. For example, we are registered as a school in the state of Florida, and we are making sure that, you know, things like math and English and science are absolutely covered in the curriculum.

So it's kind of finding the balance between what people are familiar with and also just being true to the model and the mission on us about what it actually is. A part of the challenge is because the model is so unique. We know, unless we have this hour and a half long explanation about what it looks like and how it works.

It's very difficult to communicate at a glance. So, you know, that's an ongoing challenge, but which is why we always did see. So we also do these, you know, six week program, six month programs, even though our vision is to focus on the four-year high school, because strategically we think it's great for people to experience bite-sized versions.

To get a deep understanding about, okay, this is how it works. And what was amazing validation for us is we just did a six week program and a hundred percent of the learners at the end, said they could see themselves full-time at a school like this. And we think, you know, just being able to experience it, it clicks and it, you realize, oh yeah, this is how education should be.

It makes so much sense in some ways. But without that experience, it can be very difficult to communicate. The last thing I'll say in that matter is that we're already seeing that there's, there's an early adopter market to use a startup term. There really is. There's already a lot of new types of schools coming into the space and increasing number of parents that are getting frustrated that are forward-thinking they're entrepreneurial.

They were ahead of the mainstream parents and they realize that. They want a different kind of education for their children. And so I think there are enough families up there who are aligned with our mission and the short term, until we prove ourselves enough to kind of go into quote unquote mass market.

[00:46:32] Brandon Stover: Yeah. I mean, you guys just launched this year, so it's very difficult to evaluate yet, you know, how successful it is, but how has successful or the outcomes that you guys stepped forward and solving the problems that we've been talking about?

[00:46:44] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, it's been really successful so far. Of course, there's always areas that we know we need to work on, do better. And, you know, we always received good constructive criticism as well. But what has been so amazing for us is this, this, the program that we did, the summer school that we did. And again, I wish I could show you the raw data.

I'm not making this up. A hundred percent of the learners wanted to participate in more programs. Other percent of them want it saw themselves called time. We have learners now asking us actively, when is full-time program going to launch, you know, parents who reach out to us. So it was really validating.

One of the things that was really validating for us is, you know, we, we knew that as an online first school, we had to do a lot of extra. To make sure that there was a vibrant community and a vibrant social life. So we went as far as creating an entire virtual world on a spaceship on gathered tab where, you know, learners have scavenger hunts.

And, you know, we had like almost as much as we could bring it closer to that in-person experience. And it was really successful. Like when we surveyed the learners, you know, most of them were hanging out with each other and that's virtual world socializing just for fun and informal ways. Most of them made lots of friends from around the world, which turned out to be a huge value add is that global kind of cohort.

And most of them were Yeah. W felt loved. We actually asked them, did you feel loved? Did you love the community? And the lower love just kept coming up a lot? Last thing I will add as well as just an indication of, I really think the time is right is we've had registrations of interest across the board for all four of our programs from families and over 16 countries across four continents.

So we think that even that is just a sign that we're shift. We're seeing a shift, the paradigm shift to that world today.

[00:48:35] Brandon Stover: Yeah, I'm touching on the community aspect, you know, online education. It's very hard to replicate the kind of community and connection that you get an in-person place. How have you guys beyond, you know, the virtual world that you just mentioned help to facilitate that and create that feeling of love that you know, that they had?

[00:48:54] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. A couple of ways, a couple of ways. And so, for example, my sessions at the three hours a day of live sessions, we have, we never do lectures. We have a rural, like no lectures, they're all workshops there. They involve lots of discussions and activities and games. It's very hands-on. Even if it's virtual as a learner, you're doing something the whole time.

Like the facilitators strictly not allowed to talk at the learners for more than 10 minutes at a time. There has to be collaboration happening, so that helps because they just get to know each other better and they get to work with each other. The flourishing sessions play a huge part in that we, you know, we have a lot of bonding, deep discussions in those sessions.

We spend time talking about our, you know, our insecurities. We talk about the traumas we've experienced. We talk about our hopes in life. And so we really try to create meaningful discussions that could lead to meaningful bonds. During that time, we do want to want check-ins with learners every week in our full-time programs and every other week in our part-time program.

So they're getting that personalized attention which also is an opportunity for us to spot if there is. Stress issues, wellbeing issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Cause it happens every now and then. And on top of that, we organize a game of social nights, you know, especially in the beginning to break the ice and give them an excuse to come to the space and hang out.

But then it just happens on its own and they just start doing it on their own. The last thing I'll add, we, we don't necessarily see online replacing the in person. Again, our vision is to ultimately go into direction of hybrid learning where it's online first, but you have at least the option to go into an in-person community and do more in-person community events for learners in the same city.

And I think that will always be really important as well. Like we're humans after all.

[00:50:41] Brandon Stover: Yes, absolutely. Well you also mentioned that this movement is starting to pick up. So what are some of the alternative schools that exist or, you know, are effectively also solving this.

[00:50:52] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. There's, there's so many, there's so many that I like to talk about. So there's a new youth school in Boston. It's spelled N UVU. They're following a different pedagogies and architectural studio pedagogy. So it's so much more hands-on bulbs, a lot of building and makerspaces. Once again, they're a school with no subjects, no exams, no classrooms.

They have a completely interdisciplinary curriculum as well. And they do these two week modules and sprints where they focus on different skills and different area. So similar mission in some way, but different approach and pedagogy. I love the work that they do, and they've been around for a while and have learners that have gotten into amazing universities as well.

There's the Gora school and Netherlands again, a school with no classrooms, no subjects, even though teachers, they have learning coaches and steps and every learner has their own personalized learning plan. The no lessons they learn whenever they want to, it's just like, it's a really fun environment, beautiful architecture for the school.

There is the think global school. What's awesome about the think global school. It's a traveling high school. So think of it as a boarding school, but that moves around the world. So you spend a semester in a different country each time and they embedded the curriculum around the country that you're in.

So if you're an Athens, just, you can imagine the philosophy and the history that you would be learning about. And they're currently in Dubai actually, which is very cool as well. And again, completely false to falling a competency-based model. They have their own unique curriculum. I believe it's called the Changemakers curriculum.

And they also adopt the mastery transcript and do a project based portfolio based kind of format. And they also have students that have gone into Oxford and some of, you know, the leading universities in the world. Another example I'll share is Prisma. This is an elementary school, that's an online elementary school.

They do a really cool, they do a really cool job as well, taking a community approach and interdisciplinary approach challenges. They, I believe they call them quests. And the final example I'll share is actually alternative university. Cause there's a lot of change happening in the higher education space as well.

This is a London interdisciplinary school as the name suggests there a university where there are no majors, you get an undergraduate degree, which is accredited and recognized by the British government. That is completely interdisciplinary. And you kind of also, it's also driven by global challenges at a much higher and more intensive level than you would in high school.

So like I said, we're experiencing a paradigm shift, so there's lots of these examples happening from around the world.

[00:53:25] Brandon Stover: Yeah, absolutely. One other thing I wanted to touch on was something that's coming up now in the future is using technology and big data to help create personalized learning. What do you see in the trajectory of that?

[00:53:39] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, I think it has a lot of potential, but I also think it is the buzzword that gets thrown around. Then maybe hasn't lived up to the, the, the buzzword and I know I've been to conferences where everyone's like, oh yeah, machine learning, AI personalization, and education. And then as someone like, we're actually experimenting a lot with adaptive learning paths.

First of all, there isn't much AI involved. It's really just algorithms. So that word is used a little too easily. I would say. The challenge that you have is, so there are certain areas that are really easy to automate the personalization. These are areas where there usually is a correct answer. So Amy, as a startup, that's doing an amazing job with this.

They've created an AI math tutor named Amy that can create a personalized learning path for you. As you're doing these practice problem sets, they can go to the root cause of why you don't understand a certain concept or why you're not able to solve a certain equation. And it can go back to that root cause and teach your data.

And so it's constantly adapting to you and giving you like, you know, your own learning journey and it works beautifully. We're using Amy where you're partnering with them on there and we're using Amy for basically all of her math for fun, which is awesome. But if you try to apply that to something more higher ordered, like let's say critical thinking or even writing or creative expression, it's virtually impossible.

Like we don't have AI that is intelligence enough or generalized. To be able to adapt and detect that and truly personalize it to learn or at a higher level beyond just acquiring the knowledge towards an application based education and project based education. So that's where it's really lacking and we're not there yet.

And I think it would actually take general AI that we don't have to get there. So I would really be cautious with using that word. We're playing around with adaptive learnings as well with higher audit skills, but really it's, it's more like algorithms, it's us setting this logic to the course or the learning path where we say, if the learner doesn't score beyond X percent on this assignment, take them back to this content.

Right? So it's setting these logical branches to a learning journey, which can lead to a automatically personalized learning path, but it's not necessarily driven by machine learning or AI.

[00:55:55] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Wonderful. That was great explanation. Thank you. I'd love to talk a little more about your story and, I've heard you speak before to entrepreneurs saying that to be an entrepreneur, you should identify a problem that, you know, really pisses you off and then go try and solve it. What called you to entrepreneurship and why was it the best way to solve the problems with.

[00:56:16] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. Yeah. I, I think you know, I do always tell people this it's like, don't start a company for the sake of it. Like it start with a problem and maybe entrepreneurship is the right way to solve that problem. It could be other, other ways to solve a certain problem. For me, I think it was a combination of things.

It was, it was my second, last semester of university. The frustrations were piling up, you know, and that was the point where I was trying to decide, do I want to graduate a year early? Do I want to stick around a bit more? What am I going to do after I had no idea where I was. And I was at a conference in Princeton.

I'll never forget this because this was a huge catalyst for my decision to go into the education space. And Luke Nosek, who was one of the founding founders of PayPal alongside MUSC and Thiel with lots of speakers. And and he said something I've heard in different shapes and form before, but at that time I needed to hear it then.

And he said, exactly what you just coded, you know? And the talk was like, you should find a problem that really pisses you off and dedicate your life to it because the entrepreneurship is so hard as, and as your listeners know, it's really not worth the effort and the hassle, if it's just a question of making money or if it's a narcissistic thing, like it's just other ways to accomplish that, that might be easier than entrepreneurship.

And so at that time, it just kind of clicked for me. You know, I've been complaining about the education space. I've been whining about my experience with it. It really pisses me off to my core, like existentially, emotionally, spiritually. I think what we're doing here with learners is so wrong and I want to do something about it.

And yeah, so that was, that was the background through which I started my last company and then kind of led into, you know, experiences in the education space. And great question around was entrepreneurship the right path. I actually asked myself that question again, back in January when we were ideating school of humanity, it was, does this need to be a not-for-profit you know, do I maybe try to join in, in another organization?

Solve the problem through there, or is this going to be a startup? Ultimately, I decided that's where my strength lies. I'm good at running startups. I like the freedom and the craziness with it and the flexibility with it, but it could be there, there are many different paths to solving a problem. So I think it's up to the person to decide what works best and what fits the problem.


[00:58:34] Brandon Stover: Yeah. I think that suffers a reflection is important, you know, looking at, okay, this is the problem that I wish to solve. What skills do I have that could possibly create a solution for that? And let's align those two things.

[00:58:47] Raya Bidshahri: Absolutely. It goes back to the icky guy framework. And for listeners who aren't aware of the icky guy framework, it's basically, it basically states that you're achy guy, your purpose in life is at the intersection of what you're good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for. And I'm a fourth one that is not coming to me right now.

There's a fourth, fourth elements of that framework. So it's really looking at a couple of dimensions of things to figure out what your achy guy is.

[00:59:12] Brandon Stover: Yes. Well, after completing your degree in neuroscience, you went on to start your last venture, which is our academy, which was offering a supplement to traditional education. Why was I academy not a full solution to the problems that we've been speaking about. And what did you learn from that startup that helped you start school of humans?

[00:59:33] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, I think that I, well, first of all, we had lots of beautiful traction with all academy and we worked with government organizations, largest private school providers in the world to really fill in the gaps in the existing school curriculum by offering supplementary education. That could be through the, that was through the form of both online platform, but also bootcamps and non programs that.

I very, I think towards the end, the frustration I felt was I just felt like it wasn't solving the problem. And it was contributing to the solution that's for sure. And there were no doubt that learners that experienced it and partners we worked with saw immense value. But I just felt like it wasn't at the heart of where I want it to be in at the same time.

I w I was seeing these trends of these new types of schools from around the world. And I felt like even though that wasn't necessarily a mass market solution, they're working within the early adopter space. That's where the real, real impact let's say life.

[01:00:33] Brandon Stover: for an education founder that you know, wants to create a new model like this to become one of these schools. What were the steps that you had to take in order to go from, you know, something that you had a supplemental education to actually creating, you know, a full-blown school.

[01:00:48] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. I think there's so many questions you need to ask yourself. I think I really lie in, okay. I keep coming back to that framework of what you learn, why you learn where and how I think if you can answer each of those questions well, or just the fall. Secondly, I would do some research. We did a lot of research to see, you know, what's out there.

Do we really think we have something new we can contribute or does it make sense to collaborate with this other organization that's already, we think is, you know, tackling it well. A lot of it, it definitely, if you don't already have the background, but having experienced background, at least having done research and pedagogy the science of learning, you know, there's decades of research in the education space around teaching methods that were.

Don't work and learning outcomes and the impact of various methodologies and curriculums and learners. So either having someone on the team that has that deep expertise or making sure you have that deep expertise is really important. And yeah, I think it's, it's very much we, funnily enough, for us, we still, we went with the startup frameworks more than the school frameworks, which actually gives us an edge.

So we looked at how can we build a minimum viable product of the school and, and test it very quickly. That was our summer school. You know, what is the mission and division and the value proposition. So we went. That framework more heavily. And then later on, we thought, okay, so where do legally speaking, where do we need to register this so that we don't get arrested?

But at the same time, we want to make sure it's internationally accredited and up to quality standards. So what accreditation bodies that are innovative yet, really credible that we can work with. So there's that layer to discussion as well. That will depend on which region, which part of the world that you want to start school on?

[01:02:29] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Are there any other major obstacles that, you know, they would come up against as they start to create this new model?

[01:02:36] Raya Bidshahri: One is like accreditation and regulation. That's a big one. There are solutions. We figured it out. Other schools have, but making sure you're registered in a jurisdiction where you can issue a high school diploma, legally, you can't just print a paper and it says high school diploma, and a lot of countries, you have to be registered in the right place with the right people to be able to do that.

And if you're getting international accreditation, it's not impossible. It's a very global process. It's just a lot of work for good reason to that accreditation estimate something. So those are the biggest hurdles marketing, as we discussed already at, I do believe the full time thing is still an early adopter market.

I do think it will transition into a huge space within the. Three to five years, once everyone from these early adopter, Marcus graduates from all these different schools and has success stories, and it's a no brainer. Universities are more familiar with these types of schools. It's just, the risk is much lower.

So I think finding way to keep, if you're a startup keeping, if you're for-profit keeping investors, patient. As you go through that period of really proving things out, but having enough traction and momentum at the same time to make sure people don't give up on the mission. And that period is going to be a huge challenge and really important one to figure out like for us, yes, we're designing everything to be as scalable as it possibly can be, but it may also not be.

And, and scale is not the biggest priority. What's more important is that we get the pedagogy, the learning experience, the outcomes, the university admissions rights for this first batch of students. And then think about scale and telling that story to be seized as a bit challenging so that I think can be a hurdle that everyone needs to overcome.

[01:04:21] Brandon Stover: Yeah. The other thing that you mentioned was finding a person to have on your team that has the expertise in the science of learning and the, you know, pedagogy how did you go about finding your co-founder or, and then how did you test that relationship before committing to having a co-founder?

[01:04:36] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah. So I have a founding team rather than a co-founder of the school of humanity. And there's like a whole full group of us. Great question. So there's two answers to that one. I was lucky in some ways, because the three years I spent at academy and event some years before with the science festival, I picked up a lot of pedagogy on the way I designed hundreds of sessions, led hundreds of sessions worked with high school students very closely, also worked with governments government entities and private education, private education providers around designing and launching a scaling programs.

And so I had. At least the essentials. And I knew what I didn't know given my experience in that field, but I, I definitely there were definitely gaps to be filled. So I have, for example, an amazing had a flourishing and inclusion kata that has a lot of expertise, both as a traditional teacher, but also as a yoga and mindfulness practitioner and someone who has worked along as an inclusive teacher as well with learners will have special learning differences.

And this was an area I had zero experience in, but. It's essential that you have someone if we're going to serve humanity, need to serve all of humanity. So you know, and then have for example, Chris, Colebra, who's our chief growth officer. He's the former managing director at Hartford innovation labs and has a lot of amazing experience in marketing.

And so I really was determined to kind of have all of the competencies covered in the team in terms of marketing and growth, you know, there's multiple other team members. How do you test that relationship? I think is just by trying it with everyone. We, we worked together for a month or two you know, set certain projects and tasks in mind that were both useful for what we needed at the time, what our challenges were.

But also allowed us to kind of test that what the working relationship is. One thing that I think is really important to do as a founder or a team of founders, right from the get-go is establish what are your deal breakers in relationships? What will you absolutely not tolerate. And that's different from person to person, right?

Different people have diff it could be a certain working style that you're just, you just have zero patience for. It could be a certain mannerism. It could be, it could be anything really, but being explicit, what you're, what those red flags are, deal breakers are for you and at the, on the opposite as well.

What are the things you value in a person? So we, we actually, as an team eventually establish our core values. And now we're actually currently, for example, recruiting a chief learning officer. We're very explicit. We know exactly what those values are and what those deal breakers are. So we can actively look for them and that trial period where we're just testing out the relationship.

[01:07:11] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Wonderful. Thank you. Looking at this journey of reaching this point of launching the school of humanity, you're moving towards, you know, a full school. What has this meant for you and how do you believe that, you know, education will impact society?

[01:07:24] Raya Bidshahri: Yeah, I spent so fulfilling. I think like any other founder, you go through a roller coaster of emotions given week some days being better than others, but the moment we started having you Ida, to envision your backup curriculum, you do all of these things behind the scenes, but nothing is as powerful as actually interacting with the learners.

And one of the things we mandated is everyone on the team, regardless of their role, is going to have some kind of a role that is on the ground with the learners and with the communities, whether it's mentoring a certain number of learners or facilitating X hours of sessions every week, it just brings you closer to the mission.

And for us with the summer school that we did with the community that we just interacted with and built from all around the world, It really just made it real and it really just reminded us and validated what the potential for this can be for me. One of the things. Actively thinking about with reference to the mission coming out of the summer school.

So we had about over half of our learners were on scholarships. We want to ask us for permission. We didn't, I mentioned before is this dedication towards equity? So making sure that a, it says affordable as it can be learners can request a flexible tuition payments or partial discounts depending on the financial aid requirements, but we're also actively looking for sponsors.

What was really beautiful for us to see is the impact. This has on learners who come from really underprivileged or low-income backgrounds. And this was something that wasn't top of mind prior to this program, but for them it's not just a six week afterschool or summer school experience. It's an opportunity to change their lives.

And it's an opportunity for them to break out of whatever income bracket they're in and move up or experience something they've never experienced. Before in their lives. And that was a really powerful takeaway, the impact it had on, especially that demographic of learner. And it really just kind of shifted our focus and priorities a little bit to make sure we continue to be inclusive and accessible and equitable as much as possible.

And yeah, that's kind of something that I've been reflecting on with reference to the mission at this point in time.

[01:09:37] Brandon Stover: Yeah. Amazing. What advice would you give to a smart driven founder who wants to build the business to solve a global issue like education? And what advice do you think that they should ignore on their path?

[01:09:51] Raya Bidshahri: Good question. What would I say? So I think that there's so many, it's hard to pick one advice, but one of the things I wish I did early on is take care of my mental health from the get-go. I think a lot of founders wait until they're overworked and burnt out and, you know, there's and, and one of the things.

We always need to remind ourselves as well as there's always something to do. You get a lot of flexibility as a founder, as you create your own schedule, but there's always work to be done by you as well. So just, yeah, making sure, you know, at the end of the day, it's just the company, it's just a startup, it's a tool to push humanity forward, but it shouldn't be your whole life and that you should create space for you and other things and your brand and your passions that are detached from the business in many ways.

And I think that's very hard to do as a father. You become the company, the company becomes you and you become one. And while that has its advantages, I think it's really important to be able to detach emotionally and disconnect from it. At certain points, I think that's, that's something, that's an advice I'd give someone who's already driven, you know, is on the right track.

What advice ignore. So I think that when you're doing something that hasn't been done before, you just have to remember that there isn't a playbook for it. Right. And a lot of I'm always very suspicious of people who give advice on something they have not themselves accomplished or being able to do. Or if they're giving me advice on something that no one has Scott figured out.

Right. So I think that's the kind of advice I usually ignore. It's better to say. I don't know. I started to say, you know what, this is just the unknown thing that we don't know. You don't know. No one knows because it's unprecedented kind of solution. No, one's done this before. And so yeah, genuinely people like to give a lot of advice.

Sometimes you'll see that as bias generally, if they've managed to live up to the advice they're giving themselves and put into action themselves, it's more credible

than when they haven't.

[01:12:01] Brandon Stover: yeah. Look at people's actions more than you listen to their words.

[01:12:05] Raya Bidshahri: Exactly.

[01:12:06] Brandon Stover: Well, before I get to my last question, is there a call to action? You'd like to leave our listeners with today.

[01:12:12] Raya Bidshahri: Sure. I think check us out of school of humanities left side. So it's soft humanity.com. If you know of learners and families who would be interested, they can just fill our inquiry, your registration form. And if you're interested in collaborating or if you've listened to this podcast and think, holy shit, this is my calling. I want to work with them. You know, reach out to us. We have the contact form on our website and we're actively growing our team. So yeah,

[01:12:40] Brandon Stover: Yeah. As you mentioned, you are currently hiring a chief of learning officers, so

[01:12:43] Raya Bidshahri: we are, we are, we just announced this week. So there's plenty of time for people to reach out to us. If they think it's a fit for them,

[01:12:50] Brandon Stover: wonderful. Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?

[01:12:55] Raya Bidshahri: how can we push the world to evolve? I think by starting with ourselves. I think it's really daunting sometimes. And you know, we, we, we try to explain the still learners in our cohorts as well to think about changing the whole world. It can feel even arrogant to feel like you can't and most cases it's not realistic to change the entire world the way you can change as your own actions and the world around you, the people around you.

So I think we all did that in a positive way. The world would evolve.

[01:13:25] Brandon Stover: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Ray, for coming on the show today, and I appreciate you sharing your expertise and everything that you've done with the school of humanity.

[01:13:32] Raya Bidshahri: Thank you so much for having me for the beautiful questions. I really enjoyed this conversation.

[01:13:37] Brandon Stover: Thank you for listening to the evolve. Podcasts links to everything we discussed today are available in the show. Notes. Transcripts are also available in the show notes and everything can be viewed on our website at evolve. The doc world that's evolve the.world.

My one ask for you is to share this episode with others. If you know someone who is interested in social impact, social entrepreneurship, or just making a difference in the world, please share this episode. The challenges in our world need all of those who can contribute to existing solutions or create entirely new ones. so please share the show with those kind intelligent people who are just like you until next time my friend keep evolving.