Seriously useless learning

Johanni Larjanko






Most people do not know about adult education. Learning takes place in school, happens when you are a kid and is about learning how to read and write. Yes, we have places on earth where schools do not exist. There are many who will never see the inside of a classroom. Yes, literacy and numeracy are fundamental to being able to function in most societies today. We need them to manage life in the world. This is true for children, and for adults. The lack of even the most basic skills training keeps many in a vicious cycle of poverty and despair. The world has acknowledged that. There are now international agreements in place to fix this. I am talking about the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals. So we have targets, specific numbers, agreed dates. This is not a new thing. We have had the same in the past. The results are mixed but fall well short of the agreed targets. Our solution has been to redesign our agreements and try again. Today the world agrees that by securing an education for all we will help people out of this vicious cycle. And who can argue with that? Unfortunately this usually ends with an extensive focus on primary education.

The thing is, you need to educate the parents too. Adult education has a proven track record of improving peoples’ lives. It actually helps empower them. However, many in our field try to argue for an increase in funding and a raise in status for adult education using socio-economic arguments. If and when adult education is actually discussed, words like entrepreneurial competences and employability are popular. Adult education helps you get a job, and thereby improves your situation, the argument goes. It “fosters social cohesion” and builds “social capital”. And who can argue with that?

Let me be provocative and throw a spanner in the works here. If we, as adult educators, try to emulate the econo-speak of the corporate world, we will always lose. Why? Because learning is about more. Learning is not a commodity on a market. We are not numbers. And learning is not about transferring a predefined set of desired skills or behaviours. We learn because we are human. We learn because that is in our fabric. The greatest gift we can give others is the spark of curiosity and questions, not the answers. Learning is fragile. It is a journey where we do not know the final destination. To embrace this approach to lifelong learning is to accept uncertainty. It is to recognise that we are not in control. Developing a country is not copying the blueprint from someone else. Adult education has many important roles to play, and the impact is unquestionable. It is just not always the roles and impact we usually mention.

A good adult educator is one that listens more than dictates. A good adult education system encourages taking risks, accepts failures and allows seriously useless learning, knowing full well that it is in the unexpected where we may reap the biggest reward of all. Independent, resourceful and happy people.

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