Lifelong Learning and Credits

25 Jul

There is a world beyond degrees

Thursday, 11 July 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Lifelong learning is an essential part of education policies in most nations that have a decent quality of life. At the very least, it improves mental health

Lifelong learning. Something that we practise but get no credit for. Since certificates are for schools and colleges, and not for anything learnt after that, this is not about certificates but about systematic learning of an area to enhance either one’s knowledge or earning capacity or merely to increase one’s happiness. There is much joy in learning a new language in one’s 50s, or in learning a new skill in one’s 40s. Lifelong learning is a chance to refresh, renew and reinvent oneself. A chance to change the pace, to mix it up a bit. To give oneself another chance.

There are many who missed out on the chance to study good literature and poetry in the journey to be doctors and engineers. Or those who missed out on critical skills essential to their work. Those who wish to make the leap from where they currently are to the arena of their aspirations. Is there another chance for those who did not learn to read or write, and whiled away their childhood being children? Or worse, were forced to grow up and earn when others went to school? In India, there are few, very few, options.

Lifelong learning is an essential part of education policies in most nations with a good quality of life. At the very least, it improves mental health, reducing the cost of medical care for depression, anxiety and age related diseases. It builds communities of learning, who often turn to communities of care. It builds resources — it is better to have people trained as electricians or managers rather than have them reinvent the wheel and make damaging mistakes. It is an investment in renewing the learning cycle of the nation and has a dramatic affect on productivity. Imagine the combined effect of experience with the energy of new learning. Lifelong learning empowers.

Often called post-secondary learning, this is a chance to include all those who have been left out of learning in the first cycle. There are many ways to do this. IGNOU has been offering distance learning options in India, but the entry barriers are high for those who are just beginning. The British Council with its partners, and many other private providers offer language lessons in English — which clearly enhances employability and mobility. Community colleges are a great way to build communities of employable people, bring together a range of experiences and even to foster entrepreneurship. Colleges and universities, institutions of excellence and local tuition classes can all offer a second chance at what was missed before.

A key component of systematising learning acquired after formal schooling was completed, or even missed is the concept of Accreditation of Prior Learning. APL means that experiential learning, even outside of the formal system can acquire credits and build on gains. All that is required is an authority that tests and certifies the learning and skills so that the individual can monetise it just as formal learning can be a stepping stone to higher earnings. This has been implemented for some skills-based learning where an individual can learn and add skills to a smart card, which works as a portable certificate. On showing that to potential employers, the candidate gets a chance at a better job. This is true of certain skills sectors, not all, nor has the use of this smart card become ubiquitous.

There is no reason to extend this to other areas as well. Areas that are traditionally considered academic. Some one who has managed a team well for a while could get certified — based on their experience and a set of verification procedures — as a team leader. Another could acquire certification as a teacher, or a professor based on the work they have done regardless of the degrees they have acquired.

 

This would remove the rush to acquire degrees and certification and would move it back to true learning and skills acquisition — because certification does not remain a time-bound controlled commodity. Removing artificial constraints around accreditation allows a student to learn at their own pace, acquire mastery and move along the learning ladder as circumstances warrant. Keeping pace with what is new, learning and applying as they go along their career paths is probably a more sound way to learn rather than learn in your twenties and seek to apply that to a changing world.

 

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on July 11, 2013 and is linked here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/there-is-a-world-beyond-degrees.html

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