27 January 2022

There’s Learning. Then There’s Life-Transforming Learning

By P Michael

It was a question that stayed with me until today.
“What qualification do you have to speak on this matter?” When I was first asked that question, I did not have an answer. But now, my answer is the ever-ready “Nothing, and everything.”
I was with a group of friends, and their friends, some of whom are learned members of society. We were talking about education and how our children learn. And although I work in the education industry, I do not have any formal qualification in teaching. That is my “nothing.”
But we were talking about raising our children the best we can, in an education system that is offered to us as part of Malaysian society. As a parent of three children, having gone through the Malaysian education system myself and now part of a workforce offering an alternative a.k.a. Australian education to our community, that was my “everything.”

The dilemma

But paradoxes exist in education. Education can be ‘learned’ in the classroom within a structured system. But that is as far as it goes. Education, in reality, is nothing until it is put into practice.
Educators are everywhere. Many are the product of an education system; these are teachers, lecturers, and formal educators. Others, like myself, became educators by navigating the real world. Through the trial and errors of life, these lessons are conveyed to the next generation via bits of advice, anecdotes, and of course storytelling.
When I left the formal education environment ages ago, I left behind a world of formal education and was deep-diving into life learning.

The formal

Bright minds go to university. They become educators and professors. These are the Einstein and Stephen Hawking of society.
With formal education, students sit in classes and books are opened, or in this age, projection of PowerPoint slides are shown and interactive presentations or website URLs are clicked. The educator speaks, the students respond. Information is shared, and viewpoints are dissected.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. For these discourses reveal something exciting to inquisitive minds.

The informal

Then, we have the mavericks that do not fit into social norms when it comes to formal education. They are the ones who went out into society and become successful entrepreneurs and leaders.
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University to found Microsoft. Richard Branson left school at the age of sixteen; he had dyslexia and was famously told by his headmaster that he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire. Steve Jobs attended one semester of college then dropped out so he can visit India and study eastern religions.
What education qualification did any of them have?

The secret

Primary school. Secondary school. These are just the beginning; the ticket to entering the big leagues and the networks of influence.
College. University. Then you graduate, and that is when the real ‘classroom’ is revealed.
It bashes you up and knocks you around. It cuts you, leaving scars and bruises that are still painful many years down the road.
Whatever you may call it, this is ‘accelerated learning.’ This is what happens when learning meets reality. It is the House of Information meeting the Village of Hard Knocks in the District of Knowledge. Your teacher is Mr Life and your classmates? Innate Curiosity and Doing.
And actions do speak louder than words. The information overload that we receive all this time only makes us realise that we need to turn complexity into simplicity.
Life is the ultimate educator.
As C.S. Lewis succinctly put it, “Experience: the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”

My challenge to you

No matter where you are now, or how old you are, there is no denying what you have taught yourself. You now hold the gift of experience and life learning. You now have a responsibility.
Your next step? Share your insights with anyone who would listen. Teach others what you have learned. Where do you start?
Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
One of the simplest ways? Put whatever lessons you learned onto paper. Simple and concise. Dissect the information in your head one by one. Wrangle competing thoughts into your best life’s wisdom. Clarify things until it becomes clear to you what the life lesson is.
Make it common sense, whatever that may seem like nonsense, to whoever is willing to give you an ear. Share it with the world. And make a difference.

Are you ready?

This article was written to commemorate the fourth International Day of Education, which falls on 24 January. With the theme ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education,’ the theme addresses the need to rebalance our relationship with each other, with nature as with technology while raising concerns for equity, inclusion, and participation.

The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and views of Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus or anyone connected to the University in one way or another.

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