Article (May-2018)


The ecosystem of life-long learning

Dr. Vinayshil Gautam

Designation : -   Internationally Acclaimed Management Expert. Chairman, DK International Foundation

Organization : -  


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There is a great deal of concern on employment opportunities. This is understandable because livelihood is central to keeping the body and soul together. Having been in the field of learning and development for the number of years that I have been, I have lost count. Of the many challenges which confront learning is trying to weave the common thread amongst different learning styles, systems and protocols.
Consider for example, language learning. With language learning, there is the inherent concept of mother tongue. The noted linguist, Acharya Devendranath Sharma was of the view, "The mother tongue is the tongue (language), the child learns while it is breast fed."
Without getting into the controversies of what constitutes a mother tongue, there would be a consensus that learning begins early, with life itself. It continues till life ends. The popular belief is that the last act of Ravan was that of a teacher. Reportedly, when Ravan was on this death bed, Ram sent Laxman to Ravan to learn the finner points of state craft. Therefore, literally, life-long learning is a reality. It is another matter that where-as some Universities do have Centres of Life Long Learning, it has got mixed up, in a strange manner, with the concept of extension education and updation of outdated knowledge which people may have acquired years ago when graduating. That's another story.
Like any other area, life-long learning has its own evolving vocabulary. New labels and words often replace the old. Recently, I came across the word 'autarky'. Some dictionaries didn't even list this word. When I found one, it defined it as 'economic independence' or 'self-sufficiency'. However, even if the word is new, the concept is well beaten.
One cannot lose track of the consideration of jobs and employment. Concurrent, is the reality of technological advance rendering low skilled worker, redundant, in a non - cognitive, repetitive job design. This causes loss of jobs. If there isn't a concurrent and comparatively speedier process of manpower re-deployment, then the writing on the wall is clear. The diminishing number of job opportunities will cause a dent on work force autarkies.
Clearly learning, intervention at a mass scale would require defining clear-cut boundaries of well defined, internally consistent, job eco-systems. Most of our universities seem singularly ill-equipped to handle this nation building task. The problems of the university system are many and bewailing it is a national hobby. Repeatedly, various governments have put at the helm of educational and learning systems, public executives who are either to be kept away from main stream political going-ons  or who are critical to the organisation of the then ruling dispensation. It is convenient in the second case to find for him a position, which has all the perks, but as head of the system he is not expected to find time for it. Further, the writer of these lines in all these years, has found very few secretaries, seeing the job, when charged with the responsibility of the Human Resources Department or the Education Department, as a fitting culmination to their civil service career. They would love greener pastures.
The Human Resources Ministry, Government of India, has personnel from all types of diverse backgrounds including audit, central secretariat, technical hands, IAS, fresh entrants claiming expertise in distance education and believe it or not foreign service personnel. There are other streams too. To the best of the knowledge of the writer, there exists no induction programme before the given individual starts dispensing judgments on the fate of the components of the educational system. The miracle is not that there is so much confusion, the miracle is that so much gets done!
To expect such a motley crowd to respond always pro-actively, to the educational demands of a nation as large and diverse as India, is of course the limit of optimism.
Life-long learning is a different kettle of fish altogether. That it has to factor in technological change is, now widely repeated and well accepted. What has to be further factored in, is the need for learning evolution across the different stages of life.
I remember beginning my education in UK and returning to India before getting the school leaving certificate. My parents had the responsibility of finding a school for me. In the late 50s, the Sainik School chain was well reputed. The Principal of the Sainik School, Netarhat (I recall his name as Mr. Napier) had a word with my Father and told him not to send me to Netarhat. That would take me away from the family. He was of the view that learning is at home, more than in school. He felt that my parents being educationists would provide better opportunities for my growth than even the best of schools. That is another story. What did happened was that I did not go to Netarhat.
In this text, two prior references have been made to employment and jobs. It is natural that the topic keeps re - emerging. But to understand job and employment, it is equally important to understand 'the future of work' the number of careers one has to pass through during the employable phase of one's life and more.
In the countries that have achieved global excellence, government employment is always rated low. There is premium on self - employment, business efforts, and educational employment. Indeed, focus is on, on having gainful opportunities wherever the talent flows. Indeed, there is a need for larger and better learning about the process which enables one to learn.
There is a difference between the skills of exploring, discovering and experimenting. Some hard questions have to be asked on different ways in which learning takes place and indeed does not take place. To do that however, a beginning has to be marked by putting this endless chatter about 'disruption' and 'multitasking' to some kind of moderation. India has met successfully many challenges. That of creating an ecosystem of life-long learning cannot be beyond tackling.