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Andraka, the 16-year-old who developed the cancer test, says he might be done with school. Photo: James Duncan Davidson.

These days, it seems even the masses—the Silicon Valley masses, specifically—have an education-focused mindset, and to prove that point, this year’s TED Talks focused on education in particular.

And it wasn’t just the “old guys” talking about data or assessments. Rather, the conference—titled “The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered.”—highlighted the brilliant minds of some of the most inventive, and just plain genius, high schoolers in the world.

These young participants mingled with the more seasoned education crowd to come up with some groundbreaking ideas.

For example, Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, gave an opening talk that stressed how important it is to keep students inspired. One way to do this, he said, is through collaboration.“If a student has a sense of self, it’s amazing how their dreams and values can make all the difference in the world,” he said.

Yet, Sugata Mitra, an educational researcher and winner of the 2013 TED Prize, said that schools are “broken” and “obsolete” as we know them.

“It’s called the bureaucratic administrative machine,” Mitra said. “In order to have that machine running, you need to have lots and lots of people. They made another machine to produce those people. It’s called ‘the school.’ The schools would produce the people, who would then become parts of the bureaucratic administrative machine.”

Mitra put a computer in the slums of New Delhi to see if children would explore the computer and teach themselves—which they did, he said. He’s now looking for funding to build a school in the cloud.

“We need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational program to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen; it’s about letting it happen,” he said.

Sandwiched between these two talks were the stars of TED 2013: the young innovators. From developing a low-cost test to detect pancreatic cancer, to being the youngest person to achieve fusion, these kids truly are the future … and many say they might never go back to school, which begs the question: Does Mitra have a point?

(Next page: The seven videos you shouldn’t miss)

7. To This Day Project: Shane Koyczan. Koyczan, a 36-year-old spoken word poet, has attracted more than 5.5 million views of his anti-bullying animated talk. Read more here.

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6. Richard Turere (age 12): My invention that outsmarted lions. Turere, who lives in Kenya, invented a light system that stops lions from killing herds. Read more here.

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5. Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao: Breaking down plastics using soil bacteria. Wang and Yao, two Canadian teens, discovered a bacteria in their local river that can break down plastics, which could have a massive impact on eroding landfills. Read more here.

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4. We Must Change the Culture of Science and Teaching: Freeman Hrabowski. Though Hrabowski’s talk isn’t yet available from TED, this video captures the basis of Hrabowski’s 2013 talk. Read more on his TED Talk here.

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(Next page: The top 3 videos from TED 2013)

3. For A World Without Cancer: Jack Andraka. Andraka, a 16-year-old Maryland high school student, has invented an inexpensive and sensitive dipstick-like sensor for the rapid and early detection of pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers. He recently won the Gordon E. Moore top prize at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, as well as the Google Thinking Big Award for the project, addressing a seemingly impossible problem and finding an elegant solution with broad impact. Read more here.

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2. The Boy Who Played With Fusion: Taylor Wilson. Wilson believes nuclear fusion is a solution to our future energy needs, and that kids can change the world. And he knows something about both of those: When he was 14, he built a working fusion reactor in his parents’ garage. Now he wants to save our seaports from nuclear terror. Read more here.

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1. Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud. Mitra makes his bold TED Prize wish: Help me design the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other—using resources and mentoring from the cloud. Hear his inspiring vision for Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), and learn more at tedprize.org.

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