Education’s many facets

A few days ago I watched a BBC interview with the world famous ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. He grew up in Cuba during the communist time, and even President Fidel Castro came to see him perform when he was just a teenager. His father was a Castro-fan and they started to talk that time and Castro said he would like to sit down with him and continue the talk for a long time. Carlos joked about that his father would not leave the house for several months, waiting for Castro to come, alas, he didn’t.
But this was not the main story I wanted to tell today, although there may be some interesting aspects to it, such as Carlos’ father staying committed to his conviction. Carlos said he had had a good childhood, yes, in spite of all the country’s political shortcomings, which I child might not have noticed; besides, there was education and health services for all in the land.
Carlos’ opportunities to train as a ballet dancer from a young age were not negatively affected, after all Cuba is a country where music and dance are cultural and social foundations. When Carlos was a teenager, he knew he had talent, but he doubted that he was really good. It was his teacher, who thought highly of him and believed in him, who convinced he was to continue and reach the top in the art. Also, he got high work ethics from his parents, indeed from his father, who was a truck driver and worked long hours, often being away on the road for days and weeks at a go.
As the school year is now beginning, this was one of the stories I wanted to tell; a few words of encouragement from a teacher, and the general atmosphere in the home, can keep the young boys and girls focused at eager to continue what they do, not necessarily become world champions, like Carlos Acosta, but just do well. After having lived abroad for long, in England, he has now at fifty moved back to Havana, Cuba, running his own theatre and training institute.
Carlos Acosta said in the interview that he is a tough boss because he applies the same principles to his trainees and staff as those he applies to himself, but that he also remembers the kind advice he received from his teacher when he was young. Such pieces of advice don’t only apply to top performers in various fields, but to everyone. A parent and teacher knows very well that a kind world of encouragement can change a student’s performance and his or her willingness to keep at what they are doing, or even change to another field which a good teacher may have discovered might be good for the young student. When we grow older, like Carlos Acosta, we will all remember fondly the teacher’s encouragement and concern, or just that we were seen. This is particularly important in our time when we have become so competitive about what we do; we measure ourselves against others, not against ourselves and the possibilities we have in own talents and abilities, with hard work and focus.
Let me move on to another idol of our time, namely the professional soccer football player Erling Haaland from the small town of Bryne in Norway. Well, he was born in Leeds, UK, where his father was a professional football player, and his mother and her father were also great sportspeople. Young Erling grew up in Bryne, a town with well-grounded and successful farmers and innovative developers machine factories and other industries. In Bryne, the philosophy is that people should be ‘humble and confident’, as Erling says about himself, just keep at it, be dutiful and do as well as well as you can.
In a BBC programme about the legendary Erling Haaland, which I watched a few days ago, attention was drawn to the things I have mentioned, where the simple and important messages to everyone are that we should behave well and always do one’s best. In addition, Erling Haaland also has that quality of being generous, with plenty of smiles, and not being a selfish player. In the programme he said that ‘he likes to do what he likes to do, and then do more of it’. That is a deep pedagogical insight we can all take note of. When Erling comes home to Bryne, he is not coming there as the international star he is, but he is coming to his hometown like everyone else to enjoy his family, friends and everyone else. He says that he doesn’t live a normal life now; to be with the people at Bryne is the closest he comes to be an average kid, in spite perhaps having come in a private plane.
And then, since a new school year is now beginning, let me mention that Erling’s school teacher has recalled that Erling wasn’t always a very academically keen student, and once he said to his school teacher that education was not going to be important for him, because he was going to become the best football player in the world, not knowing, of course, that his high goals would one day come true. However, let me mention again that he throughout his childhood and youth, Erling behaved well and did his best, and was a good friend for his classmates and others. At sixteen, he moved to Molde, where his aunt Torbjørg Haugen looked after his nutrition needs and care at home, and the later Manchester United Manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, looked after him on the football pitch. Let us remember, too, that success is never a one-person show, it always includes others. And, since we talk about sports achievements, not academic or other achievements, we must appreciate that they are as demanding to reach as the academic ones – and they are perhaps more alike than we think.
As we are beginning a new school year, let us note that education has many facets, and not all are given the right prominence in the quite academic school systems we have created, quite similar all over the world. Also, we give attention to formal education, and that is right, but the informal learning is also important. As a matter of fact, it is in the informal learning in the home and neighbourhood, on the sports ground and when we visit our aunt and grandparents that the foundation of our values and standards is laid, and more follows at school.
In future, I hope that we can talk more about this, and also give moral education and values more prominence in our schools. The two excellent men I have written about in today’s article remind us of the qualities they have, regardless of how clever they were or were not in school subjects and at exams. First, education is about becoming a good person, looking after oneself and others, and then, second, it is about learning skills, do well and even excel, and that can only happen if the child is looked well after and motivated to stay curious and eager to explore, with the encouragement and support of the teachers, fellow students, team mates and others.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid

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