The 21st Century Learning Initiative believes that it is in everybody’s interest to support a small number of intensive whole-systems’ programs that operate as far as is possible within such well-defined parameters (geographical) that it is possible to treat them as genuinely whole systems. In practical terms. The Initiative believes that there are already significant numbers of informed people concentrated in certain places around the world who would relish the opportunity of getting started on such a program.

For such a program to be successful three things are essential. First, such an innovation has to be seen as a national investment; new strategies being developed within the context of a single community, the results of which would be of national importance. Such a prograin has to be endorsed at the highest political level. All of those involved need to recognize that such a program will strengthen the links between members of communities, and therefore provide a stronger base for the expansion of Civil Society.

Second, those places selected for such innovation must be freed as much as possible from current regulations, administrative practices and special interests for an agreed period of time. Some form of Community Foundation/Council comprised of all the significant community groups must be able to receive from the appropriate government agencies a single lump sum (a block grant) which totals all of the discrete grants that previously went into that community piece-meal. The Foundation/Council, in exchange, must be committed to carrying out whatever experiments are necessary to invest in the most appropriate learning opportunities for young people. This should be accomplished by continuously empnasizing the application of those new approaches to learning that will eventually wean children of their dependence on conventional teachers and institutions, and thus create real collaborative learning communities. As it does this it will need additional funds (from government, business and/or private foundations) to mount the cost of change.

“I dream what could be, and ask – why not?”

Third, once the agreements have been made it is the responsibility of government and others to “protect” such innovative communities from unrealistic expectations from outside and from short-term meddling. These are experiments in new forms of community and have to be a demonstration of trust that local communities can be more imaginative and systematic than centralized authorities. In exchange the local community has to be able to live with both its own best expectations for the success of its innovations, whilst tolerating the inquisitiveness of those outside wondering what is going on.

“The challenge is how do we communicate ideas about learning to the world out there. They start with a different mental model…learning is automatically seen as instruction. That is not what we are about. How do we set in motion procedures that activate change?”

Wingspread, April 1996

This program is designed to test appropriate strategies for whole new ways of developing learning strategies within the community. Each project has to be as free of time constraints and oversight constraints as possible. This would enable each project to represent a contract between the local community and the formal providers of education designed to show how an alternative investment can create better learning opportunities to ensure a vibrant community. In exchange for this freedom each community has to demonstrate how new structures for learning can be sustained at the same or even lower levels of revenue than before the changes were implemented.

The 21st Century Learning Initiative will play a critical role in linking such community efforts within and across countries so that practitioners have ready and open access to the experience of others as well as to the findings of researchers and theoreticians where appropriate.

The 21st Century Learning Initiative will, in conjunction with nations and states, promote and disseminate the outcomes of such innovations.