Lifelong learning, and its pitfalls

Creative writing, dance, theater or literary studies? Perhaps a foreign language, yoga, music or pottery? The opportunities to learn new skills abound. Announcements regarding all sorts of seminars have certainly multiplied – in newspapers, on the Internet, on notices pinned up in public places. What is going on? What needs are being served by all these new centers for practical, or theoretical, learning? Has our society suddenly become more thirsty for knowledge or have expectations in the job market skyrocketed? The answer is: a little bit of everything. We certainly live in a society that is constantly changing, where «new» knowledge has an increasingly short shelf life, where professional rivalry has become ruthless and acquiring as many skills and qualifications as possible is vital. Meanwhile the way we use our free time has changed, along with the structure of the traditional family as an increasing number of people live alone. Young people seek to acquire more knowledge, hoping to progress further in their careers. The not-so-young increasingly want the same thing, particularly those who did not have enough time to embrace a hobby in their youth. All these people – each in their own way – want to find their place in society. And so – for all these different reasons – there has been a huge increase in people rushing to fill in applications for seminars, courses and classes. Lifelong learning is definitely thriving. In general education, specialists and historians teach classes; articles and books are published, «movements» are born. And education is one of the central concerns of every political party worth its salt. But what is the situation in the field of lifelong learning? Can anyone teach creative writing, irrespective of their qualifications? Lifelong learning comes in many forms but the point is for it to be reliable too. It suffices for a 50-year-old or 60-year-old to take the initiative to get out there and learn new things. It should not be their additional responsibility to verify the qualifications of their teachers. It is not excessive or absurd to expect a framework for operation, with basic principles and rules. I do not know who should be responsible for monitoring such a framework – perhaps the Education Ministry, universities, an independent authority. A few years ago, a group of university academics proposed just such a framework, to protect prospective students from self-styled «experts» who may try to exploit them. Their proposal may have been premature at the time, but perhaps now should be taken more seriously.

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