Lifelong learning; my learning journey with UNESCO Chair on Lifelong Learning, Youth, and Work, Gulu University.

Ever since I decided to go back to school after a ‘forced’ break for 3 years, I have become an ardent fun of learning. Some of my colleagues have given me titles to this effect (not mentioning them here). Truth is, we should embrace learning all the time because the world we live in is changing now and then. So, what is the purpose of this blog post? Whereas I have a lot to share about my learning experiences, in this article, I want to narrate my journey with UNESCO Chair.

Before the UNESCO Chair

While at Kyambogo University for my bachelor’s degree in Adult and Community Education, I was a student leader on many fronts. One of my accomplished activities was engaging in current debates about social issues and development agenda for our country. One of the lecturers in my department then saw my ‘curiosity’ and hard work especially in mobilizing and organizing people for a cause. Long story short, he has since become my mentor and colleague. Fast forward, August 2016, while I was working as his research associate, he invited me to assist him in covering a min workshop for the YEW network.  Before the workshop, he had linked a network member with me to help him coordinate a group of young people for a skit about social problems in our society. This workshop and the preceding dinners introduced me to key stakeholders of the UNESCO Chair. Subsequently, as we continued with the research project, I met more of the YEW members some of whom were supervising the research project. It was in one of the research meetings, that the announcement of the UNESCO Chair was mentioned.

My involvement with the UNESCO Chair

Again, while at Makerere University for my master’s degree, one of the YEW members was my professor. She was coordinating the UNESCO Chair secretariat (if I am not mistaken). Through her, my application to attend the UNESCO Chair stakeholders start conference in November 2017 was accepted. I was offered the privilege to be on the rapporteur team. The two days of the conference were especially important for incredible other opportunities. There was a lot of interaction with stakeholders from NGOs and Universities. In April 2018, the UNESCO Chair and partners had a week-long residential training seminar in my neighbourhood. My dean at Makerere University was among those in attendance. Something needed to be picked urgently from Makerere University to the training Hotel and he sought my quick assistance. On my return, he asked me to represent him for the remaining days for he had some urgent matters to attend to. He is such a humorous person that I thought he was pranking me for delivering the item in time, but no… he was dead serious. So, for three or so days I was jokingly referred to as the ‘dean’. You might ask why he delegated me, well, he had seen me working at the conference back in November of 2017 and I was in his face early morning when he was needed urgently somewhere. The privilege of attending this training seminar was immense. Lots of learning from partner organizations and more connections.

Other opportunities

As mentioned earlier, I am a very curious person and I like ‘going there’. In 2019 (I had moved to Europe for an exchange program in Norway) my mentor was presenting at a congress in Switzerland and asked if I could join him (of course I said yes) and that was another experience that I can write another time. How is it connected to UNESCO Chair on lifelong Learning, Youth and Work? Well, firstly, the conference was about vocational education and training which is an area the UNESCO Chair has a keen interest. Secondly, the European partner university (the University of Groningen in the Netherlands) where my mentor was doing his PhD had a team of scholars attending the congress. The same University had scheduled a seminar for network scholars after the congress. It was my time to visit this university that many of the UNESCO Chair notables finished their masters and PhDs. I asked the UNESCO Chairholder to attend the planned seminar. It was an amazing experience in the Northern part of the Netherlands.

The COVID-19 and its implication.

The CORONA crisis left most people stranded. I was supposed to travel for data collection for my second master degree, but flights were grounded, borders closed, and jobs lost. In that whole confusion and stress, I was always looking out for webinars and free courses. That is when the UNESCO Chair announced an online qualitative data analysis course to which I applied and was accepted. This course introduced me to data analysis software ATLAS.ti. I have had the chance to learn about other software provided by my University, but I have been reluctant. I took the course with the seriousness it deserved. With incredible support from the facilitators and participants, I found the course remarkably interesting and motivating. I can boast of this added skill and knowledge of qualitative data analysis approaches that I had limited knowledge about. Thanks to the UNESCO Chair for the continued capacity-building support for masters and PhD students.  I want to applaud the team that organized and ran the course. It was the best call. The COVID-19 pandemic or any other crisis should not stop the world from continuing. Organizations and Institutions should be creative enough to embrace the available technologies to carry out their mandate.

Benefits and Lessons so far

My engagement with the UNESCO Chair and/or people associated with it has yielded several benefits and I have learnt many lessons. I highlight a few:

  1. I have acquired knowledge and skills from the many seminars, conferences, and courses I have attended that have been organized or sponsored by the chair.
  2. I have made connections and enriched my social network
  3. I have travelled to new places both within Uganda and in Europe. As a person who loves travelling, this experience is self-satisfying and builds self-confidence  
  4. My perspective about certain research fields and career pathways have changed (in a good way of course)
  5. I have learnt that it is important to put yourself there even when you have no idea what is there. There is a lot we can learn when we accept new challenges
  6. I have easy access to resources, research published by the chair and people in its circles
  7. I now follow a network of scholars and their works for example VET Africa 4.0

I end this article by calling upon young educators and students to embrace volunteerism, collaboration, and curiosity. Yearn to learn more, always be on the lookout, there are opportunities for learning in every circumstance. Enhance those competencies you have or better yet, learn new skills. The dynamic nature of life requires lifelong learning to fit in the available work opportunities. Once again, I extend my sincere gratitude to the Chairholder and the team of facilitators for the interesting presentations and constructive feedback. I am happy to have taken the course and I look forward to future opportunities from the chair and its consortium partners.

About the author:

Saul is a Ugandan currently pursuing a master’s degree in Global Development and Planning with a specialization in Development Management from the University of Agder, Kristiansand campus, Norway. Prior to joining Agder as an Erasmus + Global Mobility exchange student, he had undertaken full courses in the master’s degree in Adult and Community Education of Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. His background in the field of Education informs his passion for understanding the role of education [formal or otherwise] in transforming communities. His research interests are in the areas of community education, community development, vocational education & training, socio-economic transformation, social protection, and sustainable futures.

Saul is a professional grade five teacher and a graduate of the Bachelor of Adult and Community Education of Kyambogo University. He has also done part-time teaching in the Department of Adult and Community Education, Kyambogo University, Uganda. He has taken courses in European Integration Studies at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, and recently participated in a winter school 2020 on International and comparative studies in adult education and lifelong learning at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany.