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Centaur Stage Ep 10: Ability Not Age - The Future Of Learning? with Adam Elrafey

Centaur Stage is a weekly video series where we explore bold ideas about the future of work and learning. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 2:30 PM UAE-time, Marilyn Zakhour, CEO & Founder of Cosmic Centaurs is joined by some incredible guests to share insights, opinions, and perspectives about the future of how we work and learn.

In this episode, Marilyn is joined by Adam El Rafey, a 10-year-old public speaker, innovator, learning enthusiast, and thought leader. He is passionate about reforming the traditional education system and inspiring others to find their voice and to make a difference at any age. He strongly believes in decisions being made based on #AbilityNotAge which is his mantra. Watch the full episode here.

About Adam El Rafey

Adam El Rafey is one of the youngest TEDx speakers in the world and has spoken at 14 major conferences such as GITEX and Dubai Future Week. He is no stranger to media and has been featured in several newspapers, TV segments, radio shows, and podcasts.

Adam is an Awecademy Alumni, currently the youngest innovator at The Knowledge Society’s virtual global program, and attends both primary and secondary school.

Adam loves following his intellectual curiosity and always finds himself going down one rabbit hole or another and emerging with some fascinating discoveries!

Adam starts off by explaining, what Ability not Age is… “In essence, it's the fact that people should learn based on their ability and capability and what they want or can do, versus whatever year they happened to be in or what age they are. I discovered this when I applied for a job at Hypixel when I was eight years old. I found out that the minimum age restriction was 16 years old for that particular role. I thought to myself, 'if I can do this, well, why am I not able to?' And that's what led me to come up with this mantra. I continued forward with my application, although unfortunately it got rejected because of my age.”

Marilyn then asked Adam, "How do you apply your mantra in your own life, and how have you been able to gain access to more opportunities?" She also inquired about the support he received from his school where he is doing both primary and secondary school at the same time.

Adam responded, "One example is when I applied for The Knowledge Society, last year. It's basically the Olympics for education, but their minimum age limit was 14. You had to be 14 to get into the program. So, I found the email of the co-founder and decided to write him a message asking them to interview me fair and square, no favors asked. Luckily - I made it!"

As for my school," he continued, "they have really been very supportive of me. I'm very thankful that they allowed me to even do primary and secondary school at the same time. Here's what it has looked like and looks like at the moment. In year four, I was doing year 10 innovation. In year five, I was doing year nine physics, chemistry, and biology. Right now I'm in year 10 physics prepping for my GCSEs which I'll be taking next year."

When asked how he feels about tests, Adam shared a special moment when a mixup led to a great achievement. "One day, my mom and my sister were away so it was just my Dad and me. We got the days mixed up for my secondary school and we accidentally went on a day that we weren't supposed to. We walked into class and the teacher said that we came on the wrong day and that the class was taking the test. He gave me the option to take it and so I figured, I was there anyway, and using only logic I got 75% on that test!"

The Future of Education

The same mantra applies to the future of education which according to Adam should also start from ability, not age. Marilyn kicks off this topic referencing a previous Centaur Stage episode with Helen al Uzaizi who creates programs for students starting from seven and eight years old to teach them about entrepreneurship and the skills needed to build and scale businesses. She asked Adam what other things he would like to learn.

"We have a lot of examples of unique topics that we cover with Awecademy and The Knowledge Society both of which cover different topics like Biomimicry in Blockchain, Nanotechnology, and Artificial Intelligence which is super cool."

The How & Where of Learning

Taking an audience question, Marilyn asked "how much of your time do you spend learning things on your own vs. from your teachers at school. "I'm very curious," says Adam. "Anytime I'm at home I learn something. At school, teachers teach me and I'm happy to be always learning."

Marilyn references a quote by Satya Nadella. She says "Focus on hiring a 'learn-it-all' rather than a 'know-it-all' because the world is changing really fast, and you can never make sure that you know everything you need to know, but what matters is if you're willing to be curious and to go and find the information that you need." She asks Adam about the ways in which students can learn that are more interesting like for example by integrating gaming and learning.

Adam responds with an example saying "My physics teacher in year nine asked me to build a Minecraft maze as a replacement of a test we had. It was supposed to have a question at each junction and if you pick the right answer, you can move on, but if you pick the wrong answer, you can be faced with either of these things: you can be trapped in a box with no way of getting out, you could be crossing a bridge… etc. And it was really fun for the students and me."

Taking an audience question, Adam is asked about his favorite way to learn something new to which Adam answers “by accidentally stumbling on it!" He continues, "There was this one time where I was scrolling through my YouTube recommended. I found out about the Brachistochrone curve which is the fastest way that an object can travel from an elevated point A to point B. I just randomly found that out. I was amazed by it.”

"Learning in an unstructured way is really beautiful," adds Marilyn. "Because when you go into a labyrinth of knowledge, you can be amazed and surprised when you learn in that way. You tend to retain the knowledge for longer, versus when you’re only trying to find the answer to a question."

Taking another question from the audience Adam is asked - which is more difficult, learning or unlearning and why? "For me, I think that unlearning is more difficult because I'm very curious and learning comes naturally to me. Take autonomous vehicles, I'm always excited about it, but unlearning is the trickier part."

Adam told the audience that during his free time, he’s socializing and playing with his friends and doing extracurriculars, like tennis and golf.

On working hard

Marilyn references Adam's episode of STEMcast by Latifa Al-Khalifa in which they talk about hard work. She asks, "when you are born with a talent, like you, it’s very easy for people to think this all comes naturally to you, but the truth is that you also work really hard and spend so much time learning new things. Tell us about how you organize yourself and what you think about hard work."

“I really can't stress this enough, it's, unfortunately, a common misconception," says Adam. "People can think that I'm just born smart, that everything comes easy to me, and that I don't have to work that hard for it. I just want to say that those people who think that are wrong, I worked so hard to get to where I am right now. I actually work even harder because of those people. I have to prove myself to them.”

Mindsets & Inspiring people

Marilyn shares that she is very inspired by Adam and wants to do more and push herself after listening to him. She asks him what is the best advice he could give people about how they can change the world the same way he is doing it.

"I have a growth mindset and what a growth mindset is you believe in yourself that you can do things if you put your mind to it. You just have to flip that switch in your mind. It's one thing that I know is not that simple to do, but it really works.

To re-motivate myself, I turn to my support network and my family. My family is amazing at talking to me and helping me through things. I'd like to thank them for that and all the other people who help along the way."

Rama, a former Centaur Stage guest, and founder of edSeed, a crowdfunding platform for refugee youth higher education asks Adam for any advice he has for her students. "The fact that you put up with what you do is insane and things like edSeed will change your life. Education will change our life and you can look forward to it when it does."

One last question

As with all guests, Marilyn asked Adam to complete the following sentence. "The future of learning is..."

"There are two options," says Adam. "The first is that the future of education is exciting. I'm really excited about the future of education. I'm excited to see what it is, but if I can, I'm also excited to shape what it is. The second is that 'the future of education is limitless. There are infinite possibilities of how it can change for the better."

Other episodes of Centaur Stage

Episode 9: Watch Marilyn's discussion with Helen Al Uzaizi about teaching entrepreneurship to kids or read the key insights here.


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