The word learning will have many different meanings to people and how their own views, believes, perceptions and thoughts, when pondering upon its definition, will differ and perhaps extend to another word linked to learning, that being education. Education and learning for me, and to many other thinkers, philosophers, teachers and writers will be words viewed as a process entwined both together as well as separately. To be educated does not mean that the individual has learnt anything at all. To learn something, a process or a skill, in a “parrot fashion” manner does not mean that that person will automatically enquire further into that activity. To enquire further in to the “nuts and bolts” of the process would be one example of where Higher Education has taught the learner to critically reflect upon the learning or task at hand, and to build up the critical thinking necessary to ask: why should that activity be executed in that way; or why that particular frame of thinking or working works or not, the way it does or does not, within the intended outcomes/results.
I was having a conversation with my own daughter today about school, talents, ambitions and the process of learning. My daughter initiated the conversation. She was struggling with the belief that because she went to school and did her home work, in other words, she was receiving an education, she could not understand why she still felt not up to scratch when comparing herself to the other pupils. She wanted to emulate a close friend she hung out with at school. Someone who was better at sport, did not try nearly as hard as she did with their studies and always seemed to shine and obtain better class marks. To my amazement and with a great sense of her own self-awareness, she announced that she knew her interests in clothes and fashion were hollow and meaningless compared to the learning and skills she could have.
This resulted in a lively and confident discussion between us. I explained that when comparing ourselves with others we will always fall short. We can perceive them to be better and cleverer than us-what ever clever means? But the most important point of all was to view all activities in life as a potential area for growth, learning and development. I explained she could go through the process of tasks – completing homework and projects, but deep down she needed to discover the passions and interests which would help her motivation to learn new tasks and develop new talents. You can write essays, copy notes and do homework but learn little in the process. The task is quickly done and then forgotten. This short-term memory is in-evitable in many subjects that the student is trying to cram into their minds. Long-term memory requires repetition but also the commitment and motivation to keep going when it is not always easy.
I also explained that if she knew what she really had interests in and love for, then the easier it would be to study or grasp that subject. We talked on about my own continued education, what I had learnt with the computer, the writing, blogging and photographs and how hard work and patience were also requirements if she wanted to shine at anything in particular. Her conversation did not alarm me. At 13 years, the age is an extremely vulnerable one, when the young person is developing into an adult and the flux of change and who am I and what am I going to do becomes a pressing concern.
What she probably did not realise within this conversation was that key elements of learning and reflection were taking place and there was not a pen or text book in sight. There was no blackboard or lecturer, no set homework or activity to produce. She was asking, enquiring, debating and discussing. All essential elements, both in the overall process of education and within any specific learning activity.
My daughter has now gone away and thought more about this conversation. In fact, afterwards she wanted to bake a cake and produced a very fine Mississippi Mud Pie which she was pleased with and which tasted very good. I think she was thinking that she was good at cooking so that seemed a good place to start.
Finally, I can see why learning improves self-esteem. When you learn something new then that makes you feel good. It’s like a dominoes effect. The more you learn and experience, the more able you become, confidence grows and then this strength encourages you to become more advanced in other areas. It is a like a roller coaster of education, learning and experiences all thrown together. Sometimes, we don’t know where the ride will finish but the thrill of the ride is certain. Well, it has been for me up to now and I hope my daughter can feel the same.