A convoluted and cataract vision
A camera pans through row of students while cheerful music plays. The students are adults attempting to complete their formal high school diploma in slightly undersized school desks. As the camera passes each student they tense up, give a “who the **** are you looking at” glance, or blatantly hide their faces with a sheet of paper. All that while the narrator goes on about the how wonderful the program is for the students.
The video is a from the Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning, JFLL, which I found on the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning’s site, also know as UIL. If you couldn’t tell already, they are a subsection of United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization. Like most UN activities it is awash with statements of intent, declarations, and creatively organized superfluous graphics. In other words the stuff of sweet dreams for bureaucrats and lawyers but a nightmares for anyone who wants to get anything done.
For example Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities (UIL, 2013) essential details that everything up to and including building a market utopia is what was need in every community. The main points from this eight page list of ideas are:
Empowering individuals and promoting social cohesion
Enhancing economic development and cultural prosperity
Promoting inclusive learning in the education system
Promoting sustainable development
Revitalizing learning in families and communities
Facilitating learning for and in the workplace
Extending the use of modern learning technologies
Enhancing quality in learning
Fostering a culture of learning throughout life
Strengthening political will and commitment
Improving governance and participation of all stakeholders
Boosting resource mobilization and utilization
So once we solve all the social problems we can think of we finally have an environment for lifelong learning, and, moreover, no one has to take responsibility until such time. Please continue to contribute to building the market, thank you, and have a nice day.
Poor blind beggars
Some may blame this too common combination of high ideals and navel gazing on a sort of disconnected elitism. There may be be a grain of truth to such rhetoric but in the complexities of society you can find many truths without finding causes and systemic complexities. What is certainly contributing to lack of innovation and ambition is a lack of funds and a lack of good examples.
In their 2013 annual report (UIL, 2014) we see sad finances of this global organization. Since the goals of this organization appear to doing everything for everyone, then the 5,614,000 USD, supplied mostly by donation, will work out to be approximately 0.0008 USD per capita globally. Of course their mission is seek out and build connections with existing organizations when fall into the UIL’s scope.
Word vs actions
There is a slight disconnect between the sort of grand vision the organization has and it’s actual activities. Many of the programs with with traditional institutions which provide opportunities for adults to gain literacy, portable skills, and high school diplomas. The has tremendous value for a small, actively goal seeking, segment who think it’s a means to a better life. However, many of these individuals the whole benefit from these programs it’s not about life long learning. It’s about catching up and goal achievement. If learning was so valued why did the students in the JFLL video hide their faces in shame? Learning for them is about achievement and cultural expectations which they have failed in the past. It’s not a growth mind set.
And why must the seek out these opportunities. Why can’t education hunt us down like Pepsi, McDonald’s, and Gieco? I’m not asking for the University of Phoenix model, though it has it’s place. I’m talking about are media at every level promoting great ideal like those of UIL. I’m talking about building a culture, a culture of build on human potentials! Have we lost so much faith in both the individual and the grand project of a more perfect society? I think we have.
My own experience with institutional adult learning
I remember when walked in the door of my home town university at 17. I just wanted to take their placement test but they told me I needed high school diploma. So I went to take the GED but the state told me I needed to take a mandatory two month preparation class. So I spent the next two months with several members of local sex offender registry, ex-cons, and other people generally having a hard time in life. They were actually a pretty kind bunch but it wasn’t exactly a golden gate back into education after my eleven year hiatus. It’s no wonder people won’t see such an opportunity as appealing. However I already knew the value of education.
My mom taught us to always keep learning. We were young she got her two year degree from community college. My earliest memories were of her doing homework late at night on our locally assembled Intel 486DX. I began homeschooling at the age of seven. Learning became much more integrated into my whole life. And during this time I always saw my mom learning new things, researching, and growing. By the time I was a teen she was going to school again for her four year degree. We was come to many lectures with her. And I know we’re suppose to be student centered, but I’m a sucker for a great lecture. I loved listening and learning.
The final step for me was developing a growth mindset while I was in university. I study as many different topics as I could. I took topics I thought I was weak in just to prove to myself I could learn anything. I could have used a bit more direction but such is youth.
This is, however, not a common experience. The many people I have worked and lived along side in small towns and summer jobs often don’t consider learning to be a part of their lives. I feel that they see their narratives a static with a remembered beginning and a projected end. And so how do we instill a growth mindset? We teach it! We embody it! We integrate it into the world!
Where we are going
“We recognise that we live in a complex, fast-changing world where social, economic and political norms are constantly redefined.“(UIL, 2013)
This is certainly more true than ever due to exponential growth of ideas. But the environment is responding, and we doesn’t have to really on the old institutions anymore. Platforms like MOOCs are becoming increasing popular. And the internet is changing how people think about finding new information, hence learning.
And the institutions them selves are learning. Resources such as the excellent work done by the Kipp schools are becoming more widely available. They even offer a course on Coursea on the topic (Coursea, 2015). And it must be embodied honestly and genuinely by the school. Finally integrating the school’s actives into lives and communities can insure that the knowledge and skills aren’t merely compartmentalized. If a school can provide a sense of ability to learn and autonomy to each student’s narrative then it has done its job right.
UIL is an organize with good intentions and many good ideas, obvious or not. However, they have a limited budget and an addiction to working with traditional, cumbersome institutions. If they would only look to the wider world for change, they could be much more effective.
Coursea. (2015). Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms.
Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/learn/teaching-character
UIL. (2014). Annual Report 2013. Retrieved from UIL
UIL. (2013). Beijing Declaration on Building Learning Cities. Retrieved from UIL website: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002267/226755E.pdf