Passion for learning can sustain our children into old age

Eve Jardine-Young says to enjoy the longer lives afforded by medical advances, people must learn to become ever more adaptable

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 2:22am

In reasonably affluent societies, life expectancy is now increasing at around half an hour per day. This is based on a reasonable extrapolation of trends around medical research linked to preventative as well as restorative health care. It means that anyone under the age of 20 has a 90 per cent chance of reaching and exceeding the age of 100. All children currently in primary education, who were all born in the 21st century, are more likely than not to see the dawn of the 22nd century.

This has profound implications for our roles as teachers, preparing them for working lives which are likely to extend to being great-grandparents while still in full-time employment. When working for the United Nations, Mark Malloch Brown said the illiterate of the 21st century would be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn, and it was therefore essential that our education of children now provided them with a passion for lifelong learning, so that their ability to adapt sustained them through life.

The foundations for leadership are best laid by nurturing the development of a clear sense of self, and a personal value system that is based on an authentic and deeply held set of beliefs about how to behave, how to treat others, and an acceptance that our lives are all interdependent. In a more complex world, to lead others we will need to become more confident about making decisions based on imperfect information, choosing not only to do things right, but to do the right thing.

Pupils need to begin to make choices to learn because they see its value, and they enjoy the challenge and lasting joy that it can bring. Developing skills of language acquisition will become more valuable than learning any one language at school because over such long lifetimes we may well wish or need to learn new languages as adults, and to be receptive to that. Learning how to learn will become more valuable than learning any one set of data or bank of knowledge.

Refining communication skills in order to negotiate, persuade and influence others as we come into contact with a greater number of people will equip our children to be self-determining and self-sufficient. Celebrating the likelihood of more than one career, and avoiding "pigeon-holing" ourselves or our children can be a wonderfully energising and enabling approach to parenting.

Above all, perhaps, we need to reflect that a 100 years is an awfully long time to be unhappy. However successful we are by the most evident measurable indicators, we need to be at peace with the choices we have made in life, and to have the courage to make the changes needed if we are not. For each of us, knowing what personal choices will lead to a deep sense of fulfilment brings the opportunity to live abundantly, if we are honest with ourselves and with each other. As part of a good education, we should encourage the sharing of reflective practice, and nurture a register of language that allows us to fail well, rebuild, adjust, adapt, refine, create, restore and support each other in the societies that we will be sharing with our great-great-grandchildren.

Eve Jardine-Young is principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, UK. This article is part of a series on women and gender issues, developed in collaboration with The Women's Foundation