As ever I want to look at this experience of lifelong learning from two different viewpoints. One is the factual, measureable set of experiences, whilst the other takes a more philosophical look. When I was at college I wrote an essay entitled ‘Curiosity is the Driving Force of Mankind’. I still believe this to be true and part of lifelong learning is indeed driven by curiosity from babies’ first steps to the University of the Third Age.
We start to learn even before we are born. For example, research has shown babies whose mothers listen to classical music, during pregnancy, have a calmer and more settled early childhood. You may say, that’s obvious, isn’t it?’ It may seem so but this has been measured by qualified researchers. Young children most definitely learn by example and closer observation than many parents realise. I know this from my own experience of bringing up four children. Always I attempted to blend competitive learning behaviours with collaborative ones. One of my sons was dyslexic but this was not diagnosed at the time. However, with the advent of the internet and the wired world he really found his metier. He works in the computer industry and his colleagues call him ‘Professor’. But at the time it was difficult for him to become literate, although his primary school teacher was sure he was intelligent. Now, of course, this link has been established and using computers helps to overcome dyslexia!
When the children were a little older I began a 25 year teaching career myself. This was largely in Business Studies and I completed my degree as a sandwich course, combining practical teaching with theoretical learning. I wish more of this approach took place today even at Higher Education level. In fact, I believe we are in danger of relying so much on computerised learning we are losing the undoubted value applying, when children learn from each other and from their teachers.
So I took my theories and tried to put them into practice with my students. It sounds rather arrogant now but I always challenged myself that every student I taught went away at the end of the course knowing more than they had when they began. I am certainly no Luddite and, in fact, introduced the first word processor into any Scottish College. This was Stevenson where I was a Senior Lecturer at the time. The equipment was made by Hermes in lovely calm shades of pale blue and grey, conducive to a calm atmosphere but the central processing unit was enormous. Still, it was a start for many students embarking on their own Lifelong learning journeys.
The late Prime Minister Harold Wilson, began the Open University, which has enabled millions of people over the years to study from home, with tutoring and regular examinations. So successful has this been, and is still today that in her Diamond Jubilee Year the Queen bestowed the title of Regius Professor on Professor Eileen Scanlon (who is a mother of four grown-up children and married to Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh.) This was the first time since Queen Victoria’s reign such an honour has been given. Professor Scanlon has been instrumental, along with her husband, of widening access to Lifelong learning and some graduates today are in their sixties, seventies and eighties. Also this has enabled people working in all types of job to study in their spare time. Indeed the expression silver surfers’ has been coined to describe the millions of people in retirement using the internet not only for communication with family and friends, but also for learning.
As for my own journey so far, I have learned how to make political speeches, write business articles, contribute to television programmes and started to do life drawing. Also I am turning all my writing experience into novel writing, with the first one, ‘Whitewalls’ published and out there. What next? Oh yes, enough kind people asked me what happened next to my fictional characters I am writing a sequel ‘Autumn at Whitewalls.’ In between times I have studied at the School of Philosophy in Edinburgh. This has always interested me. There is quite a lot more but perhaps I have been lucky to have these opportunities but my singular point in this article is Lifelong Learning is just that, open to all.
Christine Richard has over 25 years’ experience in public life in Scotland in the fields of politics, education, public relations and charity work. She has recently released her first novel, Whitewalls, a contemporary Scottish family saga about the lives of one family with four generations. She is also a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine.