Once again I am inspired to write on the basis of comments posted in response to this blog. Having written a brief piece titled “So then, which of us is an educated man?” Posted on February 9th, I was delighted to receive comments from individuals who come from the very fishing village featured in my writing. Clement Lopez, an activist for fishermen’s rights and the protection of the coastal area expressed his own views on the need to establish respect between individuals of differing experiences and education and Jenet the daughter of a fisherman from Kerala sent a reply that stated:-
“I never found our fishermen’s knowledge and skill in their traditional occupation as appreciable since I used to develop a feeling that anyone’s informal learning through experience and necessity will make them a skilled worker. But later on , when I was aspiring in getting more degrees in my particular field I realized the fact that to become a master in that field we must be able to apply the learned knowledge “.
I have never, to my knowledge met either Clement or Jenet and was pleased to receive their comments and to know that my words had encouraged them to think about learning within their own community. I was particularly interested in the juxtaposition that Jenet makes between the learning associated with occupation and her own more formal education. Jenet is clearly taking the opportunity to gain qualifications and to develop her own skills and knowledge as a means of moving forward in her career. I get the impression that she is a thoughtful young woman who is likely to succeed in her chosen area. Reading her comments encouraged me to reflect further upon this balance between formal academic education and that associated with occupational practice and experience.
On Sunday in Northampton I attended a graduation ceremony. This long established rite of passage sees many, largely young, scholars who have studied hard over an intensive period of time, reap the rewards of their endeavours. As they walk across the stage to be shaken by the hand of the Chancellor of the University and receive their degrees as a mark of their earnest endeavours, their families and friends demonstrate their pride with generous applause. I too felt a warm glow of satisfaction as two of my PhD students, wearing the formal gowns and Tudor bonnets of their newly acquired status were awarded certificates of recognition for the completion of their research and defence of a thesis. This long established and highly traditional ritual is a time for celebration, and for many the commencement of a new journey into employment or further study.
After the formal ceremony the flashing of cameras, warm embrace and handshakes of congratulation and occasional tears of joy (or possibly relief!) are a feature of the milling crowds before they disperse to various parties or make their journeys home. This is a joyous event and one in which I always find immense pleasure.
For those who demonstrate their learning in less regulated circumstances I suspect that celebration comes in other guises. For the craftsman the pride gained through the production of a beautiful artefact, possibly a piece of furniture or a well turned pot and likewise for the cook who prepares a dish for her customers or family, the farmer who brings his crops to harvest, or indeed the fisherman who sees his family feasting on his catch, their reward may be equally satisfying as the award of a degree or diploma. Learning should be celebrated no matter how it is manifest.
Graduation is a day of pride. Quite rightly we celebrate the learning of our students and hope that they will embark upon careers that are fulfilling and of benefit to society. But it was the final words of Jenet’s posting that led me to reflect upon the nature of such pride and the need to ensure that we celebrate and appreciate learning in all its many forms. Jenet wrote:-
“Yes, our fishermen are masters of [the] sea who apply the right knowledge at the right time, with no kind of formal education and limited access to the modern technology in fishing. Now, I feel proud that I’m the daughter of a learned (fisher)man! Thank you that you made us to feel proud”.
Master of the Sea – now there’s an idea for an interesting degree course!