Path to self-development and happiness | Sunday Observer
Lifelong Education

Path to self-development and happiness

26 March, 2023

We tend to think of education as going to school from Year 1 to 13 and then perhaps to university or another place of higher learning. But this is a very myopic view of education, which actually encompasses our entire life. In fact, there is a belief that we pick up the skills needed to survive in the nursery or kindergarten and then we depend on them throughout life. This concept is explained lucidly in Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned In the Kindergarten”.

Accordingly, these rules for life as explained in this book are: “Share everything; Play fair; Don’t hit people; Put things back where you found them; Clean up your own mess; Don’t take things that aren’t yours; Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody; Wash your hands before you eat; Flush; Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you; Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day; Take a nap every afternoon; When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together; Wonder.

Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that; Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we; And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned—the biggest word of all—LOOK; Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. Love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.”

Too formal

Apart from that bit about the Styrofoam Cup, which is plastic and should have nothing to do with our lives, this is a sound guide to life. Unfortunately, our formal education system is just that – too formal. It does not allow students to wonder and wander. Many subjects that are not relevant to job market trends – and even to life – are taught in our school and university system.

When these students go out to society, they are not properly equipped to find employment or to face the vicissitudes of life. For example, not many of them become proficient in English – the lingua franca of science and commerce. They are then cast out of the job market, where English reigns supreme, whether we like it or not.

Our education system does not allow for the natural expansion of curiosity through innovative teaching and learning methods. The belief in the rigid parameters of formal education has cast away thousands from the opportunities available in the wider society. The controversy that arose recently with regard to the all-girl band “Ashawari” shows the pitfalls of swimming against the tide in our traditional-minded society which believes only in formal education. But if we can break away from these self-imposed barriers, there is a world of opportunities out there for all.

This is where the concept of continuous education or lifelong education comes in. In essence, this means that education can and should continue right until the moment when we have to leave this mortal world. Lifelong education can be provided through various modes like distance learning, e-learning, continuing education or correspondence courses.

In my profession – journalism – journalists learn new things almost every day and I attend mid-career training programs whenever I can physically or online because these help me to become a better writer, newsroom manager and journalist. This applies to so many other professions – if you are a doctor, it pays (sometimes literally) to learn about new research, new surgical techniques and new pharmaceuticals. Learning does not have to stop even if one is armed with a PhD in any subject.

Insufficiency of skills

The concept of lifelong education has been under the process of continuous change because of increased duration of formal education and the insufficiency of skills attained in schooling for future career and success. Lifelong education initially emerged as a blend of informal, formal and non-formal education with the aim of improving the quality of life. Lifelong learning or education is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. It is important for an individual’s competitiveness and employability, but also enhances social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal development. The term “lifelong learning” evolved from the term “life-long learners”, created by Leslie Watkins and used by Prof. Clint Taylor for Temple City Unified School District’s mission statement in 1993. The term recognises that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations.

There is even an International Journal of Lifelong Education which carries peer-reviewed research articles on this and related subjects. This shows the importance attached to the concept and practice of Lifelong Education around the world. Apart from such academic interest, Lifelong Education gained extra prominence and awareness among the public during the pandemic years when people were mostly confined to their homes as a result of months-long lockdowns. Thus people had ample time on their hands to learn another subject or skill via online methods, which were also applied to formal education in the wake of school closures. It was also pointed out that such a diversion would help people tackle any mental problems associated with the lockdowns.

Multiple skills

Lifelong Education also benefits those who may wish to change their career paths, apart from those who wish to bolster their existing careers as explained above. I know of many teachers and lawyers who later became journalists and even those who did the reverse. In most other countries, it is fairly easy to switch subjects and careers mid-way through life. Thus a doctor can become a lawyer or a lawyer can become an architect. This way, one can even juggle between two jobs. And many doors open for those who have multiple skills. There is no question of becoming irrelevant in the job market either.

Lifelong Education also helps to keep the senior citizens occupied and economically active after they retire from their formal jobs. For example, someone who retired as a bookkeeper can switch to a less strenuous job after learning the ropes. Lifelong learning can also help those who are disabled from birth and those who become disabled after a road/workplace accident. For example, many blind persons and those who had lost their arms in accidents have been successfully trained as telephone operators – there is no need to hold a physical telephone as a headset can be worn. Likewise, there are many such examples from the world of work.

But a paper qualification or even a job may not always be the purpose of Lifelong Education. Self-satisfaction is the best motivational factor for learning in the adult stage of life. These learning opportunities can be categorised as follows: Developing a new skill (eg. sewing, cooking, programming, coding, public speaking, etc); Self-taught study (eg. learning a new language, researching a topic of interest and learning a new sport, hobby or activity (eg. Joining martial arts, learning to swim, doing crosswords). There are some activities which might fall outside “education” per se, such as doing Sudoku, which helps keep one’s brain active and sharp.

The International Day of Happiness

In the end, learning something new, regardless of age, can lead to a state of happiness and fulfillment. In fact, there is even a day to celebrate Happiness – March 20. The International Day of Happiness is a global holiday observed every year on March 20 to promote happiness, well-being, and a more compassionate world. It is a day to celebrate and recognise the importance of happiness in people’s lives and encourage individuals, communities, and organisations to take action to promote happiness and well-being.

The International Day of Happiness is based on the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right, and that promoting happiness and well-being can lead to a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable world. It is a day to celebrate the power of happiness to transform lives and make the world a better place for all.

Be Mindful – Be Grateful – Be Kind

This year’s theme was “Be Mindful – Be Grateful – Be Kind”. All these do not cost even a cent. You should always be mindful of your surroundings and what you are doing. Be grateful for all the wonderful things that had happened to and in your life – including of course, education. And always be kind not only to people you know and love, but also to everyone else. Helping a blind or differently abled person to cross the road is a simple act of kindness. This kindness should be extended to animals as well – for example, why not take home a stray pup or kitten? Just watching your new pet play will definitely make you happy.

If you think you have no time for a little bit of joy, think again. There are plenty of ways to find happiness – the Finns, the happiest people on the planet (World Happiness Report 2023) – will tell you how. Allocate time for the simple things in life and learning something new, and you will be in a state of contentment for life.