Thursday, 8 November 2012

Coaching and non-formal education

I learnt valuable lessons as a student in the faculty of adult, non-formal and continuing education at UCT. I don't think anyone consciously taught me how to get a feel of what non-formal education is, yet it's one of my favourite feelings. Not formal, not informal, just non-formal. Real, without being regulated. Valuable, without being commercialised. Deep, not necessarily serious. Free to grow, no restraints except for self-imposed focus.

If there's one impulse I'd like to spread as strongly as I can, it's the urge to take your own non-formal education seriously. Learn to like learning, because this is how you discover your undiscovered self. The Undiscovered Self is the title of one of Jung's books, and I enjoy the cover of the one I have: it's a reflecting cover: the title is printed there, and furthermore your own face peers at you while you look at the words "The Undiscovered Self".

Our adolescent years tend to put our curious minds in the corner, on hold, possibly forever, while we move inexorably towards the requirements of the formal world. Once in the economic ocean, we sink or swim until we die, and using energy to stay afloat, buy a boat, move towards our dream island absorbs us for our length of days. The formal world, as lawyers well know, has a strangle-hold on the sense of reality. Formal education is mostly a matter of training and certification, along with a fair amount of socialization. Non-formal education, on the other hand, is about discovery, extension, absorbtion, growth at any level and in any sphere. The Open University and The Third University cater to this in a structured way, and there are probably many more like these. Many universities allow non-formal students to follow courses on an ad hoc basis for non-degree purposes, so long as they pay the relevant fees.

The energy that drives non-formal education is sheer interest, the hallmark of connected mind. When curiosity revisits in mature years, it's a grand occurence. If curiosity persists, and the demand of wanting to know for myself remains awake during all our decades, leadership is bound to emerge.

To engage in non-formal education, you need to dedicate some time, have enough money to buy a book (or download one, and if you've bought a tablet, you have the money to download), attend a short course, meet with others, and the freedom to approach leaders in the area of interest. Interested people are always keen to spread their interest. This a huge benefit of non-formal education: the generosity of spirit you will encounter in your pursuit of growth.

Generic coaching lends itself naturally to non-formal learning. How do I learn to start a business? To live more effectively and happily? To sort out relationships? To achieve optimal rapport with people? To know my destiny in life? In a more practical sense, if I want to start growing a vegetable garden, I"m free to ask my neighbour who already has one, for advice.

As an educational coach, I encourage people to take pride in the hair on their heads before they put on a formal hat. Your formal identity tends to overwhelm the undiscovered self, the wild stuff that growls unseen from the middle of the thick copse. Your natural interests connect you to that hidden energy that would prefer to stop growling and emerge.

You're fortunate if formal education has assisted your pursuit of growth. Large parts of mine did so, and that's how I leant that the more hats you take off, the more you can put on.

Non-formal education doesn't require nearly as much structure as formal education. You begin whenever you want to, follow whatever you choose, resource whatever you can. The internet is a massive resource, but short on interpersonal encounter which is a crucial part of any education. That's where my participation as an educational coach is valuable: what is it that you've focused on, and what do you want to gain? If you want to gather information on tunnel-farming, I'm sure you'll find it. If you're grappling with a question you can't quite verbalise, maybe we can form the question together. Roles for our consciousness are changing ultra-quickly. I wonder how many people sit down and think about prioritizing their roles. What am I first? Mother, son, citizen, consumer, manager, tax-payer? Non-formal consciousness which is a given in my book knows how to leap and doesn't always have a concept of where it lands. It explores as it lands. Frogs do this habitually. Humans complicate the water-lilies, yet it's just a matter of focus. The basic realisation is that consciousness can be formally channeled but not reduced. You can put a litre of water into any container you want, but if you pour it into something less than a litre, spillage there will be.