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Article The World We Want In partnership with the UNDP

Lifelong learning: A way forward to women's empowerment

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” ― Henry Ford

Learning should never end. In fact, it should be a lifelong activity for a very simple reason that it engages the mind in healthy pursuits, like learning new skills, being part of a team, or perhaps an interaction with a tutor or an expert who could guide an individual in the right direction. Women, especially, need to find a way forward, to empower themselves if they wish to change, and develop their own lives and those around them.

Instead of submerging themselves in unnecessary addictive patterns and sometimes self-defeating attitudes, when faced with life’s problems, lifelong learning can steer them away from such self-deprecating behavior. It can put a woman or any person on a constructive path and can be one of the sources of emancipation and empowerment. Freedom from ignorance and other vices are the prime advantages of lifelong learning.

“Lifelong Learning” is, officially, learning that happens after formal education is complete. It is a process whereby additional know-how is gained and improvisation of skills continues to periodically occur through time. This kind of training is formally available in continuing education departments or extension schools, in universities around the world; it is also present and known in the form of adult education, knowledge work, homeschooling,
autodidactism, and Waldorf education (this education is meant for children and encourages learning for life.)

Learning does not only mean gaining scholarly information, but it could also mean empowering oneself by learning any constructive ability, which is of help to an individual. Women, especially, benefit, in developing nations, because ongoing studies—could be in the form of continuing research, or any learning process—gives them a chance to enhance the talents they already have and encourages personal growth.

There are encumbrances in any developing nation, which women face, but it is truly continual training, which has thrown open the doors of empowerment to them. Irrespective of age, women should come forward and acquire new skills and experiences, at any stage of their lives. It is definitely in the hands of women, to decide whether they want to stay where they are, or if they want to walk on the right path—moving toward emancipation and empowerment.

Elucidating, the importance and benefits of lifelong learning, the following passages shed light on some of the positive benefits of lifelong learning. These benefits would not only apply to women, but to all individuals.

Staying informed and updated: Most women who have been successful in their lives, in whichever field, have been learning new things; perhaps this learning wasn’t classroom learning, maybe it was on-the-field training, but it still helped them establish a base from where, they could help themselves first, then their families, and the society at large. If a woman learns about new subjects, this could lead her to continuously discover newer information platforms and specialize, if needed—such is the continuum of life. From here, she can choose to establish a new career, further her skills in her present career, or just update herself. Success could come in many ways, because learning what one has set out to learn is an achievement in itself.

Keeping away from addictions and negative patterns: Problems could take a woman or anyone, toward indulging in self-destructive behaviour, which may take the shape of an incessant need to consume alcohol, or other addictive products. Once such patterns become a habit, it is difficult to get rid of them. One of the best ways to avoid adopting negative leanings is to learn something new, and continue studying and developing skills throughout life.

Developing focus and concentration: Studying can be considered to be a kind of meditation, because it involves a direct and uninterrupted attention on the content being studied, or an activity and actions being observed and remembered. In such a situation, concentration and focus increase and energy flows in a positive direction. So, instead of engaging in activities, which do nothing to solve problems, instead only add to them, lifelong learning gives an opportunity to develop concentration, especially, when it is needed the most.

Enabling creativity and innovation: This globe is a reverberating sphere of information and communication, and everything moves from one place to another, through varied channels. To enable innovation and creativity in all areas of life, be it any career, or any standard business culture—acquiring new skills—allows for a connection to new strengths, which ultimately turn into a support system that may not be available otherwise, if there is no endeavour to learn.

Enhancing skills: A list of accomplishments, which have come through any kind of learning is indicative of the drive to know and to engage in a suitable course of study. Whether there is work, voluntary work, or no work, learning can only be of help because it will occupy those precious hours.

No quality learning ever goes to waste.

Improving logical and reasoning abilities: Engaging the mind in intellectual pursuits, will eventually end up filling the mind with empowering thoughts, instead of depressive and melancholia-inducing ones, leading to a balanced personality. And in a balanced state, it is always easier to make good decisions. The ability to clearly understand situations and intelligently reason and react as circumstances demand, therefore, also comes through persevered learning inclinations. It will also empower a woman to approach life in a practical manner, instead of visualizing, and acting out negative blueprints in her mind.

Keeping old age diseases at bay: In old age the body is no longer as fit as in youth. But the mind can still keep things buoyant. Indulging in good habits like reading, another kind of learning, helps in keeping the mind active and creates happiness. Alzheimer’s, dementia and some other old-age diseases can be prevented, by reaching out to various forms of learning, consistently through life. Not just diseases, but the general well-being of older women can be maintained by getting involved in lifelong learning. However, if someone is suffering from some chronic mental ailment, even depression, it would be best to consult a specialist, before pursuing further studies.

Improving quality of life: If a woman engages in any kind of further learning activity at any age, she can definitely improve the quality of her life. She will have more topics to interact about, she will have more experiences with which she can improve the lives of others, and her own. A woman’s confidence levels will increase, and she will feel surer of herself and her abilities. “Lifelong Learning” definitely facilitates development and increased participation in life, for all.

There are numerous benefits of lifelong learning, and the more one delves into this, the more advantages spring up.

The different ways in which lifelong learning is currently accessible to women in India and to women of the world, is through:

  • On-campus Learning
  • Online Learning
  • Correspondence Courses
  • Books
  • Newspapers, Journals and other Reading Material
  • Skills passed from one generation to another (Show and Tell)
  • Specific learning programs on Radio and Television

In cities and suburbs

Resources and Tools available: Classes held within universities, institutes, and many other associations, workshops conducted by the British Council and many others, within cities and towns in India, provide women the means to this wealth of skill acquirement. There are computers everywhere, in homes, or inside internet cafes, in cities and suburbs here. By using technology, a woman in India, or in any part of the world can access study programs or study tools, which are paid, or free for learning—online, through open universities, correspondence courses and many other sources.

Certain national and private television channels also broadcast shows for increasing awareness among women in all parts of the country, as television has a wider reach. Take a look at this old Doordarshan cartoon that had become a popular learning tool for many young girls and boys. Some radio channels, too, transmit programs to facilitate varied learning through the means of University broadcasts, Interactive Radio Counselling and others.

Most well-known universities, institutes and even workshops offered throughout the world provide access to this valuable opportunity of lifelong learning. There are many free extension programs and useful courses on the internet, which must also be explored. Those who are cash-strapped should use these free tools to increase their knowledge, skills, and work towards developing their life through learning.

I strongly recommend researching free programs online if you can’t afford the more expensive ones, but choose program(s) of your choice only after thorough deliberation. Reach out to whatever medium of learning is suitable. Also, language should not be a barrier to learning. Seek knowledge in any language as is convenient and available.

In villages in India

Villages in India do not have access to proper technology, like computers in every home or internet cafes. Although the Indian government and world organizations encourage Lifelong Learning for Farmers and programs for rural women, but it may not be accessible to everyone. There are basic schools in some villages, but there is no availability of continuing studies or specializations.

Radio also has a major role to play in rural areas. Community radio stations, enable the dispersal of knowledge and information across regions, in the form of enrichment programs and others. This reach needs to increase because majority of India lives in its villages, and many still go without access to such learning facilities.

In spite of such encumbrances, villagers, still unceasingly engage in training, in spite of sparse learning opportunities, and even when most of the residents do not have any formal education. Folk art and craft techniques they learn from their forefathers are improvised upon and passed down to generations. This keeps both men and women engaged in learning-oriented activities throughout life.

More should be done

The government and even corporate bodies should provide more opportunities for women, such that training programs are provided free of cost or at a discounted rate. In fact, women themselves should come forward, and form collective associations, which could collaborate with specific funding organizations and government bodies so that learning varied skills, acquiring knowledge could be made easily available to everyone in the vicinity, be it in cities, suburbs or villages. One of the best ways to transfer knowledge is by setting up more community radio stations across the country because they are low-cost, and radio has a grassroots reach in India.

The next step forward

The information gathered so far can be applied to developing countries all over the world, and other countries, too, not just India. Technology, on-campus courses, books, and other reading and learning material in this case is a boon for women of all age groups, religions and from all nations. They can easily use the internet and other study platforms, in a positive manner to enhance their knowledge base. They should choose the skills they want to learn about and study it further. Endeavours should be made by the government and private organizations to make learning available to as many women as possible.

Lifelong learning is a solution to many problems in life, especially, when there has been a setback in one’s personal or even in professional life; when a particular situation has changed in an adverse manner, and there is a need to step away from it all. Learning gives women a chance to walk a new path, which could be the way forward to a brighter and empowered future.

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