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Why Life Long Learning is symbolic of a healthy culture

WILL ALSOP

On your deathbed you learn about death.

Before you die you learn everything. The idea of a learning environment to last you your whole life is fantastic. Something to satiate your curiosity as long as you live is an ideal which is worth striving for.

Of course, what you know dies with you.

The scourge of the old has been the attitude of other people to the old. Their accumulated wisdom has been discounted in the west and they feel that they have been discarded onto some temporal garbage heap of absolute irrelevance. The young have stamina and get paid less, resulting in a better investment than the elderly alternative.

Life long learning (LLL) is, at present, being misinterpreted as an opportunity to train people in computer skills which might service the needs of the business community but not fulfill the requirements of the individual. In other words, the term is in danger of becoming an issue which is evaluated in terms of commercial gain. This has nothing to do with the idea of the 'ordinary'person's welfare. It is couched in terms of a social audit. People require the freedom to absorb themselves in the useless. My advice to those of advanced years is to move east.

In Russia the views of 75 year olds are revered and respected. They have experienced more than the 40 year old and have something to contribute to the debate.

Move further east to Japan and here you are still useful at the age of 90. The 'heap of the old' is not a view of society which is recognized. Culture is an amalgam of society and not confined to the few who are economically active. LLL is too important to be left to the vagaries of the market place.

Learning is education. Education is, or should be, concerned with a holistic view of ourselves and our behaviour. A strong culture is essential to mental well-being and prosperity. That is why LLL must not be allowed to become a restraining activity to feed back into commerce and industry.

Imagine creating a space that you really want to go to. NOT a school, not an institution, not a badly-lit room in a new university campus. This place is a cross between a good bar and heaven, where the beauty of the experience transcends the tyranny of the clock. Chinese calligraphy sessions are very popular and their 3am slot has moved to prime-time 9pm. Many participate on interactive web sites and the whole plethora of activity is seen on the outside by passers-by via actual and virtual technologies. The elderly often stay out at night. This place is at the heart of the community and is not an outof-town learning centre. It needs to draw together several strands of activity.

In my view, based on observations in West Bromwich for C-Plex, a combination of a health centre, library, restaurant/bar and advice centre, would form a base series of linked activities that draw in a wide range of local people. All these are complemented by workshop/classroom space. The whole is a visitor attraction which has relevance for all.

These LLL centres or TRIPLE Ls, replace traditional civic buildings. In this sense the council chamber should also be in the triple L.

Therefore local authorities might like to consider that a debate on the future of their town centres is almost as good as the provision of the building. It is far more meaningful than the turgid debates regarding out-of-town facilities, which, despite their mundanity, always get planning permission.

These places do not enrich the lives of anyone, and lie outside any form of rationale known to us, apart from that of a happy shareholder. We deserve culture and education, not invisible investors in bad ideas.

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