Lifelong Learning: Plant Your Garden, Instead of Waiting Someone Bring You Flowers

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For most people, getting an education means getting diploma. But what if the traditional process is only the very tip of a huge ice-berg?

Every student needs to understand that the school, university, and college are not enough, that teachers and professors are not omnipotent oracles of information, that most learning is done outside the walls of educational institutions. And, most importantly, that the pursuit of knowledge starts the moment you are born.
A child’s natural curiosity begins the education of every person. While still a blank canvass our minds try to catch every opportunity to learn, to study, to adapt, all to ensure survival, and one day gain independence. Most of the time it happens without kids realizing it. Over time a person creates consciousness and for some that consciousness diminishes curiosity, being satisfied with ready information provided by the outside world. That moment is one of the saddest – people stop asking questions, and instead of becoming interesting individuals they settle into intellectual mediocrity. There they become small threads in the broad fabric of society, which is driven by the few who can actually move it towards the future.
Thus, basically there are two paths to choose. The first is simple passivity, and the second is the constant, conscious awareness of definitively opened eyes. There is no bad alternative. In either case the traveler along the road of life might be happy and reach his goals. It is enough, though, to look at it from a distance and with a clear mind to judge rationally and see which road is richer, which one gives more experience, more space for development. Following the better road exactly is necessary to ensure the sustainability of society as a whole. We need more well-educated people, but not those produced by the existing system, rather those who look under the surface of the sea to get a complete picture of the ice-berg.
What is there, in those cold, dark waters? Exactly what was already mentioned – a child’s curiosity. As Jorge Luis Borges has written in one of his poems: “with every good-bye, you learn.” One can get knowledge every single second, in every single situation. What is needed is just awareness, and opened eyes. You can learn something from every meeting, every read word, every conversation, every journey, every party with your friends. You gain knowledge about others, about yourself, about the mechanisms ruling reality, about the connections between all. Opening eyes to simple facts, and trying to live in response to them is what the notion of lifelong learning is all about. That notion is the thing that all educators should put into the minds of their pupils.
It is so because learning is not a simple path. It is not a good choice for the lazy ones. Only hard work can bring you benefits for the future, like the ant in the old story. Despite that well-known truth, a surprisingly big part of the world is living grasshopper-style, enjoying the moment and not thinking about the next day. This truth is also a universal one, because it is not only implementable in the economy but can be easily extended into our discussion about education. Since the more you learn, the easier the next portion of knowledge enters your mind, the easier it becomes to find yourself fully cognizant of reality, and ultimately the easier it is to have a real influence on the life around you.
Lifelong learning is also a much more difficult road for educators. Because it means maintaining a constant balance between the comfort of formalized education and the uncharted waters of unstructured learning. And most of the educators around the world do not have enough patience, they lack the drive to go in that direction. Trying to survive without respect and on low salaries, they are burning out fast. Most of the contemporary teachers in the West are passive, mechanically doing their jobs. And, failing to be more attractive than wikipedia, they create passive pupils, who – not caring about asking questions – create in return even more passive teachers.
How to run away from that vicious circle? The answer seems to be easy, and should be already obvious. Simultaneous awakening of students of every age and educators to the notion of lifelong learning. Why? Because teachers should learn all the time as well as their students. Knowledge is an infinite thing. The start, though, should come with a realization of something else – that the solid foundation on which education can be built is made from interpersonal communication. How can you teach someone without knowing how to communicate with that person? The transfer of knowledge can be successful only if the process of communication is happening without problems. It is linear: sender – (coding) – medium – (decoding) – receiver.
That process can be more efficient thanks to a couple of things, starting with knowledge about the one on the receiving end. That knowledge is needed to choose coding properly, meaning what language we will choose, then medium, because only then can the information be decoded and understood by the receiver the way the sender wanted. Another thing is allowing students to ask questions, as many of them as possible. Unfortunately, in my experience most teachers do not like it when pupils ask questions, because they are afraid of not knowing the answer. No one is omnipotent, it is impossible. One should always be able to admit to the lack of knowledge – it is always the first step to getting it. This is how every pursuit of information started – recognizing what was missing, then formulating a question. Then follows research, from putting a finger into fire to find out if it burns to building a Large Hadron Collider. The learning process is all about curiosity, and being brave enough to wonder what is beyond the horizon, to ask the right questions and get the right answers.
I do not know many teachers who can actually communicate with their students, and the fall-out from this is the counter-productive structure of our system – lecture, homework, exam… The world undergoes changes on a daily basis, faster with every year, faster than when current models of education were created. Therefore education should adapt as well. It means constant learning. The gap existing between most of the teachers and students is huge. And again help might come from lifelong learning, from realizing that most of the knowledge gained comes from outside of the classroom, most of the information is outside of the textbooks. The modern educator should be able to teach how to look for knowledge, how to connect and use information, should be a mentor, a coach, not … “a professor.” Modern students at the same time should be aware of the fact that a diploma is not enough, and that they must sustain their curiosity.
You, dear reader, should be ready now to make the first step, to start your hard work now. What have you learned today? Is it a difficult question? Try asking the same question every night before going to sleep, and it should get easier, you should start noticing more and more things, you should be able to gain more and more knowledge. And knowledge, as you already know, is everywhere. So, dear reader, after finishing this article please no matter who you are – an educator, a young person either or both still learning or pursuing a career – close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes, and look at the world in a slightly different way. To use again the words of the Argentinian writer, please try to “plant your garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”

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