Over the next few weeks, our children (and teens, young adults, and lifelong learners) will return to the classroom to “study.” But is an education really all we can give them? Or can we go further to help them take an active role in their learning experience? and apply what they have learned to build a better world?
The difference between “education” and “learning” is one I have often pondered, both as a student and later as a teacher. What I discovered is that we often think of “education” in a passive sense: students go to class. They accumulate knowledge. They listen to a lecture or read a textbook and information is passed on to them.
But while all of these can be good starting points, they’re not the finish line – and they certainly shouldn’t be the goal. Students need more than access to information, theoretical frameworks or the memorization of names, dates and times. And this is where I believe the value of “learning” lies.
The important question for 21st century students is not “What do you know?” but “What can you do with what you know? Do you share your knowledge with others? Are you applying your skills to solving global problems? Are you actively involved in shaping the future of our community and our nation?
Amidst all the complications of our modern education system – letter grades, standardized tests and percentiles – we often lose sight of this true purpose. More recently, students and teachers have faced new challenges through virtual classrooms and online education, which has forced us to reconsider our approach to education.
In a lifelong learning approach, there are three key elements to keep in mind:
Access to education. If you look at a community as a balance sheet, what are the main assets? From a traditional point of view, you could assess the value of its infrastructure, buildings, businesses and exports. But I have always believed that the greatest value is in its people – and there is still plenty of evidence to show that investing in a higher level of education and skills development contributes to more prosperous and stable communities for people. years to come.
Real world practice. Lessons learned while volunteering for charity, visiting a museum, setting a budget, or fixing a car can be just as valuable (and often more memorable) than those learned in the classroom. Naturally, parents and families play a leading role in helping children engage in hands-on learning experiences at home – but teachers are also called upon to ensure that students not only understand What they learn, but Why is this important.
Call for service. “Enter to learn, leave to serve” is the motto of Bethune-Cookman University. It’s a philosophy inspired by our founder, civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She believed in learning not for personal enrichment or professional success, but for service – using the skills and knowledge we learn throughout our lives to better our community, our nation, and our world.
Although Dr. Bethune died in 1955, her belief in uplifting students as global citizens and lifelong learners is a reality that rings true today. We cannot predict what the future holds, much less prepare our children for all the challenges ahead. But we can instill in them the strength of character to respond with compassion, dignity and courage — and that’s something that never gets old.
Dr. Lawrence M. Drake II is the interim president of Bethune-Cookman University.