The 2019 school year is done and scholars’ progress and achievement all around our beautiful country has been celebrated in the school halls, on the sports fields, on social media and (hopefully) in their respective homes. The school year for me was a memorable one as we took on the exciting primary school journey head on – my daughter’s unfailing enthusiasm seemed to take everything in stride. I marvel at the incredible progress she has made across the Grade 1 curriculum; most tangibly evidenced in her reading, writing and maths progress. What a privilege to have watched and supported her learning journey – what a reward to see her sit with a book and read the words on the page for herself.
The Global Education Crisis
For many, the school year was not as rewarding. UNICEF reports, ‘an estimated 617 million children and adolescents around the world are unable to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics – even though two thirds of them are in school.’ The report goes on to state that ‘schooling does not always lead to learning. Worldwide, there are more non-learners in school than out of school.’ A lot is being done around the world to change this but simply stating that everyone has the right to learn is not enough. It’s not about whether our nation can read, write and count, it’s about whether we have the skills needed for lifelong learning. Reading, writing and counting are foundational building blocks to more complex, more rewarding learning journeys and endless opportunities throughout life.
Shifting to consider learning through a corporate lens, Epignosis defines learning as “the process of absorbing information and retaining it with the goal of increasing skills and abilities in order to achieve goals…learning is what we go through when we want to be equipped for non-specific and unexpected situations and the two are not mutually exclusive.” While the intent might be to learn to do something specific, we are at the same time being equipped with the knowledge and/or skills to face future challenges. Learning is about equipping a person to tackle not just today’s problems but preparing them to creatively come up with ways to tackle tomorrow’s issues. I’ve certainly had many examples of learning in my own life this year.
Learning’s competitive landscape
Learning seems to have become somewhat of a competitive sport. Our world is awash with machines, systems, and technologies learning faster and more efficiently than we do. Using a specific data source, they draw conclusions based on algorithms, applying these to ‘improve’ an experience and/or influence human behaviour in a specific context. Yet, compared to learning in the human context, their scope for learning is narrow, determined by the programming and limited to the data sources to which they connect. In contrast, our ‘store of data’ from which we learn is dramatically different: it is captured in our unique daily experiences, all so dynamic and diverse, sometimes even chaotic and tragic and as narrow or as broad as we determine. When coupled with the uniquely human trait of grit, the stories of what can be achieved by ordinary people, despite unfavourable conditions, continue to inspire and delight us and spur us on.
Learning – right, responsibility and privilege
The more I consider the question of whether learning is a right, responsibility or privilege, the more certain I am that it is all three (and more). With the right to learn comes the privilege of learning opportunities (formal and informal, public and private). With privilege comes the responsibility to learn and the responsibility to enable learning for others. Responsibility is shared by both those learning and those enabling the learning of others. In foundational phases, it makes sense that the responsibility rests more heavily on parents, educators and institutions but every child must still play their part in the process. As adults, more responsibility for our learning journey shifts to us. Merely being in a classroom or other learning environment does not guarantee learning – learning is guaranteed only when we show up persistently, passionately and with purpose, ready to adapt to whatever comes our way. When we commit to the journey, wrestle with the content, and take action to apply the insights, we are creating a better future for ourselves, our businesses, families, communities and our nation.
Celebrating our right to learn
Storytime is no longer the same in my house. It is now a beautiful collaborative process where my daughter and I share the responsibility of reading. As her skills continue to improve, it will change again. I will become the listener and she, the storyteller, and still both learners. This December, I will most definitely be celebrating the right to, the privilege and the responsibility of learning.
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