We often lose sight of the bigger picture when we become too focused with a goal or an objective. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I have found from my personal experiences that I have had to remind myself to keep things in perspective.
I mean two specific things that I remind myself of all the time:
- Your point of view and your perspectives shape how you act, think and learn. Always remember the bigger picture and stay positive.
- Remember what you are passionate about and how you can apply that to make a difference. It does not have to be big but learn to apply your passion to making the world a better place.
These points are relevant for 21st-century learners in the context of postsecondary education. Our generation and the work that we will carry out will shape the future.
We have seen exponential growth of knowledge that we collectively possess as a human family. Now a family with over seven billion members, we are facing some of the toughest challenges of all time. From the growing dangers of climate change to political instability across the globe, these are issues that our generation will inherit and be forced to solve. Our contributions to the world will shape the community in which we live.
Perspective is about how you see the world and your role within it. Higher education teaches you to be a critical thinker, but that doesn’t mean being cynical. Cynicism spawns negativity and apathy, two qualities that hurt a 21st-century learner. Your actions can make a difference, so learn to have an optimistic perspective.
I was able to experience this first hand during the summer of 2014. I had the opportunity to visit a rural village in Kenya to work alongside physicians at the Baraka Health Clinic that serves more than 100,000 people in the area. This journey opened my eyes to the disparity that exists in the world, not only in regards to healthcare but to many other aspects of life. Seeing patients with incredibly advanced disease presentations due to lack of care and patients with easily preventable but devastating illnesses made me feel quite defeated.
However, I was continually astonished by the work of the health professionals. Even in trying times with limited resources, they carried out their work with such compassion and grace. One physician took me aside after seeing me completely overwhelmed and exhausted following a long day’s work. “David,” he said, “the beauty of life is smiling even in trying times. It has helped me to overcome the difficult times and find solutions to things I would have never thought possible.” He taught me that no matter how hard things may be, it’s important to stay positive. He helped me to not take things for granted and reaffirmed the importance of optimism. He helped me put things in perspective.
In the context of 21st century-education, we have to give the learner opportunities to discover their passions and opportunities to practise applying them to solve real world scenarios. One way is by encouraging active-learning methods and integrating service-based learning into more curricula. It might mean encouraging students to participate in community programs or to volunteer with organizations. Engaging students in outside-the-classroom learning encourages individual growth and helps students become active community participants.
For the student, it is important to remember your passions. Your interests and individuality shape how you can contribute to solving problems. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and volunteer, start a club, or organize a conference. This is really where you learn how to apply textbook material to the real world. There are things that you simply cannot learn by writing essays or by studying, only by doing. Learning this helped me to be a better student and person.
I am fortunate to have found my passion. Postsecondary education has given me the tools and knowledge sets to tackle some of the tough challenges that we face. But what was missing was the practical knowledge that will help me to seamlessly transition from a learner to a citizen of the world – this is where learning outside the classroom comes in.
In the 21st century, with an increasingly complex set of realities, it is less about how the education system adapts to you and more about how you adapt to it and take advantage of it. We have a responsibility to our fellow citizens of the world. Step back. Look at things in perspective. Armed with passion, knowledge and optimism, no problem is too big. I for one am excited to see what we can achieve together.
This is the fifth installment of our series Student Voices written by the 10 Canadian postsecondary students who were named 2014 3M National Student Fellows, awarded by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada.