The journey of lifelong learning

  • Education
  • Sunday, 19 Jan 2003

AIRIL HAIMI MOHD ADNAN of Universiti Teknologi Mara, Perak writes:  

IT WAS a beautiful Saturday morning – the birds were singing and the bees were humming. As usual, I was on my way to campus – another week of teaching adult teachers on the out-campus BEd TESL programme.  

I was singing loudly to the tunes on radio as I usually do every day on the way to campus, when my car suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. The radiator of my old Nissan Sunny had sprung a leak, and I was stuck.  

The temptation to give up and cry was so great, especially when the nearest public phone was exactly two kilometres away. And yes, I conveniently forgot my mobile on this fine and beautiful morning. 

Half a bucket of sweat and an hour later, I was back on the road, this time in my father's trusty Iswara.  

Now the question on my mind was a simple one: Why didn't I just go home that day and postpone my two lectures to another week? I simply could not.  

When you are teaching a group of learners who have to travel far and wide just so they can attend their Saturday lectures for the next three to four years, your motivation level, as an educator, must be twice as high as theirs.  

This is the reality we face as educators of those who are embarking on a journey of lifelong learning. 

I remember vividly one Saturday last semester when one of my Education Sociology students arrived about 10 minutes before class ended, all drenched in sweat due to a situation not unlike what I had to endure.  

Asked why he had come (at all), his reason was this – to make sure that he could hand in his essay to me on time, although he lives a good three hours away from campus.  

Well, if that did not warm your heart, my father endured five painstaking years of overbearing work commitments, my mother's constant nagging, and so much more, just so he could graduate with a Diploma in Public Administration.  

I hear now you can get five to 10 diplomas in the same amount of time. Strange, is it not?  

On paper, lifelong learning is a landmark concept – that we should continue our personal development even without any extrinsic motivation; that as human beings we are compelled to learn, merely for the pleasure of getting knowledge. And that whatever we want to learn, the yellow brick road is there and it is just a simple task of walking where it takes us.  

The reality of lifelong learning though, is no less than blood, tears and about two pounds of flesh. 

Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but adult learners are a special breed of people, sometimes seen as people with suicidal tendencies even. They study with a constant challenge over their heads – the challenge of aging and the struggle to prioritise and juggle all facets of their daily lives.  

This is the very reason lifelong learning needs a different breed of educators who can help these adults in their learning; those who will come to teach even when they have to walk four kilometres in the late morning sun in their pretty leather shoes.  

Educators who empathise with the lifelong learning agenda understand that their level of support for these adult learners can never falter, and that they themselves have to keep on learning to keep up with the demigod-like motivation levels of these learners.  

It is no surprise that we find adults doing extremely well in part-time and out-campus courses even when everything else seems to be against them. 

Nevertheless, we must not forget people who educate these adults too – as they (and I) would tell you, it is a gargantuan task just to help these learners understand the subject matter being taught.  

Now, how do you advise them to balance between all the demands they face? I am still looking for an answer. How do you support them so that they won't give up and leave the course halfway through? Only God knows.  

Much has been said about lifelong learning, though most of it would just be political rhetoric and idyllic mission statements. But why not see for yourself, and drop by sometimes? Or better still, join us in learning – for the rest of your life! 

Yes, it can be expensive and very tiring, but trust me when I say that lifelong learning is an investment that always yields positive returns. The best thing about lifelong learning is that you would also find single subjects or weekend courses near your humble abode. 

For a moment, forget about certificates, diplomas, or degrees.  

The nicest thing about lifelong learning is, like us, it comes in all shapes and sizes. The point is simple. No matter who you are, how old you feel – just learn!  

Learn anything from floral arrangement to basic carpentry, from investment strategies to child-minding skills. The more adventurous may like to try something more academic, like introductory accounting, management skills, or even web authoring.  

You should be in good hands, and we will try to give you all the support you need. As long as you are willing to learn, we are more than willing to teach you. Think of it as a “smart partnership”! 

At the end of whatever workshop or course you take, you would end up being smart, and we would all be learning new stuff, as we are all mates on the same ship bound for that Nirvana people call Lifelong Learning. “All aboard!” 

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