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Learn for Life or Lag Behind

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. – Alvin Toffler 

Twenty something years ago there were nine planets in the solar system. We recited the poem that made it easy to memorize.  Remember? Today, they’re eight. Bats were blind. Today, there are bats that actually see three times better than humans. We were taught five human senses. Today there are over fifteen discovered senses.

Twenty something years ago we were told there was zero gravity in space and that diamond was the hardest substance known to man. All these…are not true, today. The times are changing folks. The times are fast changing and I’m not talking about the ‘Circle – Dubai’ kind of change. I’m talking about the kind of change that makes what you knew yesterday ‘chicken change’ in the face of today’s new knowledge.

The speed of human knowledge is on unstoppable tracks, on average doubling every 13 months. Reports by IBM suggest that the “internet of things” will essentially cause this doubling of knowledge to happen every 12 hours.

Today those in school ought to understand – the four walled lecture theatre has been flawed. It will not beat the internet on information sharing…and when you own a smart phone, apologies, you just lost your right…to every excuse of not knowing what you want to know! After all, you’re contributing daily to the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created on the internet – that is 2.5 followed by 30 zeros.

If you’re not in school, a little sleep and a little slumber and you’ll wake up one day looking like Fred Flintstones in The Jetsons.

If you’re not in school, a little sleep and a little slumber and you’ll wake up one day looking like Fred Flintstones in The Jetsons. You can check this video out later.

All the information gathered from school is expiring at almost the same rate at which new knowledge is announcing its presence through the accelerated development around us. Now more than ever, decisions over matters as simple as which toothpaste to use are no more that simple. Decisions taken today based on yesterday’s knowledge could be detrimental if we don’t take a shovel and go digging for the up-to-date the information.

Any decisions made based on obsolete information will look like taking expired pills to heal a worsening headache.

It can be worse. The speed of new knowledge could render many people extinct. Extinct? Yes, when our function, ability or acquired competence loses relevance as a result of social advancement, that’s extinction. Gone were the days when a secretary would boastfully ‘tac-tac’ on a typewriter when you were trying to get her attention because knowing how to type alone made you look like the ‘Pope’. Who cares today?  Nina Handler, who noticed how fast her own extinction was taking place, is a perfect example of the changing times. After teaching English major for years, Nina observed recently how students’ interest in the field dropped year after year and how the university was soon going to have no option but to take the program down. She puts this in a very pitiful way, “I can see the future and know that I won’t exist in it.”

In Ghana, we attributed the recent collapses of the many business entities and accompanying job losses to weak corporate governance and yes, we were so right! But in a case where a robot – well, let’s agree diffusion of robots in Africa will take a while – in a case where a software program takes the place of thousands of jobs, who do we blame? When robots replaced 90% of a company’s workforce in China, not only did human defects drop by 80 percent, productivity whisked over the roof – a staggering 250 percent. So yes, we need this advancement.

How then do we face such a fast-paced world? Adaptability. And the surest form of adaptability for all of us is for us to commit to continuous learning. Learning should not seize. Let me shout for those at the back: learning cannot seize! We need a mind shift from the conventional notion that our learning takes place when we are young and in school. Surviving in an ever-changing world is to intentionally progressively update yourself about this world. Today, it’s safe to say learning has become as important breathing.

It looks to me that when learning seizes, one ought to be declared dead.

Continuous learning today will not only be key for daily living but also critical in the economic marketplace. A Mckinsey Global Institute paper, Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce explored how some major European and US companies plan to resolve the intensifying skill mismatch resulting from automation by 2030. Obviously hiring (the prepared off course!) and retraining will be the way to go.

I doubt if this will be any different for all other organizations across the world. My call-to-action is for us to take personal control over our preparation and retraining through continuous learning. Learners, not the learned, are assets to their families, friends, communities in this new world. Learn for life or lag behind. Eric Hoffer put it this way, “In times of change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”

Anyway, humans don’t use only 10% of their brain capacity. That too, is not true today.



About the author:

Prince Ampofo is a public speaker, author and social worker who has empowered over 10,000 young Ghanaians over the past ten years through public speaking, coaching, volunteerism advocacy and community service in nine out of ten regions in Ghana. He has authored two books; a leadership masterpiece titled A Leader At Last and its workbook, Leadership Gold Series Workbook. Currently, Prince is Program Coordinator for Databank Foundation where he runs leadership, mentorship, mental health and literacy initiatives with a volunteer network of about 250 young people in Accra, Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale.

He is widely known for the Prince Ampofo Leadership Ministry (PALMinistry), which he set up to empower young people to appreciate the need to discover, develop and deploy their potential. He also helps young people to run social initiatives that seek to impact communities and engage young people through volunteerism.

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