26 Jun 2016
A higher educational institute which provides alternative education for the community as well as manages the learning process in ways that enable a community to be learning and strong and students live with dignity and secure a livelihood in their community.
To develop the Institute so that education, research and community development are integrated in order to create an intellectual driving force that can transform the people’s movement into a society where people are self-reliant and happy.
The Life University: The Background of Learning Institute For Everyone (LIFE)
The Community: The Background of the Life University.
These days it seems people all over the country are facing problems concerning debt, family, and their very own livelihood.
It is as though their community is about to fall apart; people are unable to solve the myriad of problems they are besieged with.
Despite the above situation, we have discovered that there exists a good number of people who have been able to solve their debt and other problems by themselves. We have also come across many communities that have not collapsed; on the contrary, they are strong and able to support themselves. More than just a few are outstanding to the point that many people from all over the country and from abroad have made an effort to pay them a study visit.
At a time when we are about to lose hope in our education system since it has failed to help mend the problems of poverty, debt, separation and violence, we have found that strong communities throughout the country are strong not because they are granted big budgets and many projects, but it is because they are ‘learning’ communities. These communities have efficiently managed their own learning processes in ways that can help solve their own problems and develop themselves.
LIFE has ‘sought knowledge’ from village philosophers, leaders, and from the strong communities we have visited.
For the past 30 years, we have collaborated in ‘joint development’ of local communities all over the country. We have worked with community leaders, academics, then analyzed and synthesized the knowledge obtained from these communities and developed it into both short- term and long-term programs and those at a higher education level; these programs are then brought back to members of the communities all over the country so they can choose to study. It is hoped that upon graduation, they can take back their knowledge and manage to successfully deal with their own problems in the same way as those individuals and ‘prototype’ communities.
The ‘Life University’ is a phrase specifically coined to describe a learning process that comes from life experiences. Learning here is, therefore, based on real life, real problems in our life, community and society whereas one’s potential and that of his local community serve as a solid foundation and an investment capital. Learning at LIFE means learning to solve own problems and to develop oneself rather than learning ‘from books’ in order to pass ‘exams’ and take the degree they receive after graduation to look for jobs elsewhere.
The Life University is one ‘form’ of learning which uses life as the ‘content’ for learning. Emphasis is put on process-oriented learning and not on rote learning or knowledge transmitting. It is a process that helps learners learn how to think, and think systematically as well as be able to create new or ‘tacit’ knowledge. This kind of knowledge that they have created by themselves is considered the knowledge with maximum efficiency and force that can result in desired effects of the changes.
One’s life is likely to be improved while learning because learning at LIFE means change. Changes for the better should occur immediately because true learning will cause one’s inner potential to explode and not the learning that is crammed in from the outside. Old information and old knowledge found in textbooks or transmitted from teachers can merely equip learners with new tools to create some kind of new knowledge. It is in no way a ‘final’ or ‘ready-made’ answer.
Building New Knowledge: The Heart of the Life University
Knowledge that people gained by themselves is considered ‘first-hand knowledge’ whereas knowledge that is found in textbooks is ‘second-hand knowledge’. The problem with education in our country today is that it is based entirely on second-hand knowledge which comes from ‘book learning’ and ‘rote learning’. We have not yet changed our attitude regarding learning; instead, we just take it for granted that we are already in possession of that knowledge and have found the truth. Unfortunately, what we are doing is simply memorizing or learning that knowledge by rote, grab it and merely put it to use.
This method is known as linear learning which over-simplifies education like the ‘formula 2 x 2 = 4’. This type of formula cannot be applied in real life because life is not that simple and is not governed by any formula. Rather, life is complex and involves many chains of reasoning and many twists and turns that one needs to identify and untangle in order to survive.
The old style of education cannot, therefore, cope with social problems because each problem has its own complexities. In order to grasp an understanding of both the macro and micro views, knowledge and wisdom have to be applied. Since there is no set formula in this, we tend to resort to power and money as an easy way out of social problems. However, ‘money and power’ can only serve as ‘pain killers’; most of these social problems cannot be solved merely with “orders and budgets”. Only education can help one find the answers; and it has to be ‘good’ education and not the old form of education.
The old form of education relies on rote learning and does not teach one how to think, how to connect things or think systematically. It is an approach to education which is aimed at producing obedient citizens under a patron-client system. It is a patronizing form of education that is exerting control over one’s life. This kind of education involves no questioning, no arguing and no critiquing because students have never been taught to ask a question nor how to create new knowledge. When faced with a problem, they are at their wit’s end. This is because they do not use neither reasoning nor knowledge nor wisdom, but resort to violence.
A New Approach to Learning: A New Paradigm for Education.
Learning that creates powerful dynamics for change comes from an education system that is equipped with a new paradigm which involves ways of thinking, practicing and giving values that is set on the premise of looking at the realities of the world from a different perspective. Details about this perspective have previously been elaborated in “A Paradigm for the Life University”.
The underlying principles or the philosophy of the Life University can be summed up as follows :
- People are not born ‘stupid, poor and vulnerable’. But they are instead ‘made to believe’ that they are totally and actually ‘stupid, poor and vulnerable’, and firmly believe that things are really the way they are (hegemony). In reality, these people are deprived of an opportunity to learn and to develop themselves. It is fair then to say that our society is unjust and does not provide equal opportunities. If they are given a chance, most people are likely to change themselves for the better and contribute a great deal towards their local communities and society as a whole.
- “No one knows it all; no one is ignorant of everything. We all know something; we are all ignorant of something (Paulo Freire)
It is our belief at the Life University that each and every one of us has accumulated a considerable amount of experiences and knowledge. If chances are available for one to exchange his/her knowledge with others and if there exists a ‘management of knowledge’ system that is systematic, rule-based and theory-based, these experiences can be transformed into a valuable ‘body of knowledge’. The learning process at the Life University is, therefore, focused on knowledge management (KM) and not on knowledge transmission. It respects and recognizes all students as ‘knowledgeable people’ (on some matters), who desire to learn and collaborate with teachers and others to develop themselves.
- Learning is a process of creating new knowledge that comes from within each person. This new knowledge can be obtained only from the learning process that integrates ‘second-hand knowledge’ (from textbooks, teachers and friends) with ‘raw materials’, or ‘second-hand data’. These are then synthesized in order to create ‘first-hand knowledge’ which can be a very powerful force in transforming people and our society.
- The Life University emphasizes self-awareness on the part of an individual learner. Efforts made at tracing the family roots of oneself and one’s community as well as its local history help raise an awareness, boost a sense of pride in one’s own area and hometown, as well as a sense of respect for ancestral wisdom. This is based on the belief that “those who don’t have a past don’t have a future; those who don’t know where they come from do not know where they are going to”. Similarly, “those who have no roots are likely to be overpowered and have their future decided for them”.
- Learning in the Life University uses life as the pillar and the local community as a base and a source of investment capital. It does not separate education from development. Learning is accompanied by practice. After learning, communities that do not have enough rice to eat are likely to be fed and able to find ways to get out of debt. If there are environmental problems in the community, they will work together to deal with them as well as promote health and a sense of happiness. Funds and welfare are provided; career security is guaranteed. Education at LIFE can help them ‘live with dignity and secure a livelihood in their own area’.
- The Life University has created a new learning atmosphere and innovated a learning process which is geared towards a new kind of education culture which involves discovering oneself, one’s potential, one’s local social capital as well as identifying problems , one’s real needs and those of one’s community. This will lead to a kind of development whereby students and the community can stand on their own feet. It is this type of education that develops students so they are “able to help themselves and help others”. When they don’t have a job, they can think up new work; they are not going to simply wait for someone to come and employ them.
- Learning in the Life University helps one know oneself and one’s community. It enables LIFE students to understand the world, broaden their world view, and connect themselves with a globalizing world where everything is interconnected. It makes them realize how changes in the community are affected by changes in the world and how to cope with this as well as how to survive with dignity in a borderless world.
Returning Education to the Community: The Local Duty
Section 29 of the National Education Act of 1999 states:
“Educational institutions in co-operation with individuals, families, communities, community organizations, local administration organizations, private persons, private organizations, professional bodies, religious institutions, enterprises and other social institutions shall contribute to strengthening the communities by encouraging learning in the communities themselves. Thus the communities will be capable of providing education and training; searching for knowledge, data and information; and able to benefit from local wisdom and other sources of learning for community development in keeping with their requirements and needs; and identification of ways of promoting exchanges of development experience among communities.
Section 41 states “Local administration organizations shall have the right to provide education at any or all levels of education in accord with the readiness, suitability and requirements of the local areas.
The LIFE University provides the kind of education right in students’ local community so that learning can be based on real life situations, real environment and real life atmosphere. And, of utmost importance, it allows the local communities to play a part in managing higher education. Members of the community are not merely treated as members of a ‘school board’; on the contrary, they are recognized as ‘owners’ of the community learning center in their area. In doing so, committees are formed upon the recommendation of the local community; their responsibility is to jointly run the Community Learning Center so that students can learn in accordance with the philosophy of the Life University.
It is not necessary at this stage to construct new buildings to be used as classrooms. This is because there exist many different venues that can be found locally such as a monastery, a school, a local administration office, a municipality council office, a centre for non-formal education, and so on. In some places, old schools (which have been closed due to lack of students) or old government offices (such as a district office of primary education) are being used as classrooms. There is also an attempt at raising funds in the community so as to involve its members in the collaborative effort to establish its community learning centre.
LIFE students have a chance to learn in real life situations in their own community. Apart from the regular full-time teachers, there are also other teachers and knowledgeable people available the local area who can serve as ‘mentors’ and/or ‘managers of the learning processes. These people help students learn in groups, or with knowledgeable people, local philosophers and experienced individuals from in the strong communities as well as work together with students in research and development projects. In relation to this, project-based learning plays a crucial role in various subjects at LIFE since it helps promote integrated learning. It is a belief at LIFE that one’s life cannot be separated into parts, but it is a system in which all parts are connected. Learning then has to be all-round so that the various parts can be assembled like a jigsaw where every single piece must fit together in order to get a complete picture.
Building Leaders of Change : The Goal of the Life University
Lessons learned from individuals and strong communities show that problems related to poverty, debt, migration from homelands, and collapse of communities have occurred not because there is a shortage of resources, namely labor or even money; but it is because there is a severe lack of knowledge necessary in managing one’s life and local resources. A strong community is one that learns and uses the knowledge and wisdom to solve its problems and develop its potential as well as efficiently manage the life of its members and resources. These resources are considered ‘the local capital’ which is abundant in the community to enable one to live with sufficiency”.
These days, there are very few knowledgeable people remaining in villages. The younger generations who seek to further their studies do not wish to return home because the mainstream education system neither prepares them to cope with life in the village nor to earn a living there. The only jobs available in the villages are working as teachers, officials or staff members in local administration offices or municipalities; however, there are likely to be limited positions.
As a rule, members of a local community, both children and adults, these days are entitled to study up to the higher education level. However, the traditional education system does nothing to accommodate this. In fact, people are forced to learn about something which ‘alienates’ them from real life; they instead have to ‘study books’ in order to pass exams and receive a ‘diploma’ more than anything else. Besides, elderly people have difficulty remembering and are likely to become discouraged despite their vast experiences.
The Life University wants to offer these adult learners learning choices so that they can ‘live with dignity and secure livelihoods in their own community’. They actually have no need for a university degree to go and find work. This is because these people are going to become so-called “farmer graduates” or “organic intellectuals”. These graduates from LIFE are meant to be knowledgeable leaders who are capable of leading their community out of a dependency society into a knowledge-based society, from a society which relies on money and power to a society that uses knowledge and wisdom.
The Life University aims to produce ‘a new breed of leaders’ that utilizes information, knowledge, principles and ethics as guidelines in transforming their community into a self-reliant community; members of these self-reliant communities have no intention whatsoever to simply wait for help from the government or from outsiders
The Life University: Towards Educational and Social Reform.
The failure of educational reform in our country may be partly due to the fact that the “content and process” of the reform were not made clear. In fact, changes are evident only in terms of its format, system, organization, and power; unfortunately, the essence of learning was absent and the implementation process of the educational reform itself lacked participation at a national level, despite it being a critical matter that concerned all Thais.
The Life University is in itself an educational reform because its theories and practices come from a different theoretical foundation. It is an education reform that originates from the grassroots, from the community which, if spread throughout the entire country, will be a seed that can sprout and grow. It can play a part in changing our education and local development and is likely to result in a large-scale social transformation, both at the level of government agencies and also at the policy development level of the government and political parties.
Almost all students of the Life University were adults aged between 20-80 years. After completing their studies, they usually chose to remain in the own areas. Up to today, approximately 5,000 people all over the country have completed their studies at the bachelor and master levels. These people are scattered in villages and cities throughout the country. They are farmers, members of the TAO (Tambol Administrative Office), members of municipal councils, village headmen, government officials, and office workers. Some are vendors in the market place; others work in health stations and hospitals, and other places. These people have not only applied the knowledge they have obtained in their livelihoods and but they have also managed to create new knowledge and introduce changes in the areas in which they live by following the tips: “how to think, how to implement, and how to give value” as well as “how to learn”.
Apart from programs at the bachelor’s level, there is also the master’s degree program which aims at enhancing local leaders to become ‘strategic commanders’ who have the ability to develop strategic plans based on academic principles. These strategic plans are not merely work plans or budget request proposals but they are geared towards effective implementation.
The Life University is one way of reforming our education and ultimately our society; this is a path towards a democratic society. This democracy is not meant to be only in form (which involves voting, councils, political parties) but a true democratic society that respects the rights and the dignity of the people and provides equal opportunity, as well as allows people and the community to participate in political processes, decision making and monitoring.
If we look at the world situations today, we cannot deny the fact that the reason why developed countries have been able to reach this level of development is because they have a good education foundation. This corresponds with the words of Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister that ‘the fate of a country depends upon the education of the people of this country’.
It is for this reason that governments should seriously “invest” in educational reform because “education is expensive, but ignorance is more expensive” (Benjamin Franklin). The amount of damage and deprivation caused by ignorance is far greater than that of the investment spent on education.
Educational and social reform can occur only when there is a synergy between the social force from the public at large, and the knowledgeable force from the ‘right’ education. The attempt at creating new knowledge that is appropriate for the local areas and society as a whole with the support from the political force should be adopted as a public policy of our society as a whole and a national agenda, a people’s agenda as well as an agenda of all sectors.
The three forces mentioned above could be equated to the so-called “Triangle that Moves the Mountain” strategy proposed by Dr. Pravase Wasi. The ‘mountain’ here refers to ‘something that is blocking the path’, whichis in a way similar to that very mountain elaborated in “The Mountain and the Path to the Buddhist Dharma”by the Venerable Buddhadāsa Bhikkhuwho identifiedthree things that prevent anyone from attaining Dharma. Accordingly, these can be compared to the 3 major obstacles blocking the passage of social transformation to a better society. These obstacles involve superficial attachments to only the ‘form’ and not ‘essence’ of the three major issues, namely development, education and democracy
Learning at Life University is learning to be free. It is the learning that integrates development, education and democracy into one unified force that can strengthen and sustain the foundation of our development.
Life Skills for ‘University of Life’ Students
- Able to think
LIFE students should be able to analyze and synthesize; they should also be creative, informative, knowledgeable about life, society, and the world at large. They should have the ability to connect stories, keep abreast of changes, understand why the world is the way it is, how the world’s problems are connected to the problems around us, namely, global warming, food problems, energy and problems related to development.
- Able to make decisions
Decision making means being able to make your own decisions, having a common sense, an awareness and sufficient wisdom to do what you want to do and not follow the trends, being brave enough to buck the trend, not letting life just pass by each day but living with plans, with goals, making decisions on what you want to do, not letting the situation force you, and not being overshadowed by outside influences.
- Able to choose
Being able to choose means you can choose or not choose, seeing more than one choice and a variety of choices. Knowing how to identify new options by yourself, not surrendering to situations that force you to do something or make you follow the same path set by others, or set by society, like a horse drawing a carriage in Lampang, with one eye covered and seeing only one side of the path.
Self-reliance means knowing how to put one’s own abilities to the best use so you are able to manage your own life without having to depend solely on others, knowing how to develop one’s own capabilities so that one can be self-reliant now and then make plans to create welfare and life security in the future. Self-reliance is knowing how to live with dignity, how to help oneself and others; knowing how to live with others interdependently, relying on others without being too much of a burden on them.
Learning in the University of LIFE
- Learning to Know.
This means learning different matters that we need to know, should know and which everybody wants to know in order to have a better life, to solve own problems and develop oneself; learning different theories and thoughts so that they can be applied, put into practice and good use.
- Learning to Do.
Learning different skills so that they can be put into practice, for example, learning how to make plans and set goals in life, learning about community master plans, community enterprises etc. This kind of learning provides guidelines for theory, practice, and implementation which will help develop skills, knowledge and provide a deep understanding of that particular issue because knowledge will come from firsthand experience and from the learner’s own practice.
- Learning to Be.
This is learning to improve the quality of life and make life better, solve problems and develop oneself. Life improves during the course of the study whereas debts are decreased and health is improved at the end of the study program at LIFE. Dependency on medication and visits to a medical doctor are reduced to a minimum level. One is likely to become a happier and “true person”.