Mhairi Murphy explores the benefits of life-long learning on health and wellbeing for everyone

The mere mention of “Further Education” usually prompts a variety of emotional responses, from the comical rolling of eyes, loud sighs accompanied by “Oh I wish I had time” and even the odd, “Why?,” usually reinforced by a whirring finger aimed at the head.

Who has time for further education given the pace of life now? Time is precious. Who has enough hours in a week left for further education after juggling kids, home, health, work, battling traffic, the endless “to-do” lists … never mind summoning up the required mental energy, self-control and motivation needed to embark on yet another thing “to-do”.

Faced with squeezing that thing into an already busy day, it can become a task or even worse a chore, and the easy option is just to go with the flow, stay in the groove that’s safe, and remain in the holding pattern of your predictable routine as you run around trying to get through your day.

But for those who make the decision to accept the challenge that further education offers, they can open a doorway to a whole new life experience, an all access pass to new opportunities, a new skill, breathing life into a forgotten passion, a better career and a new social network. Studies have shown that embarking on further education, be it for recreation, professional enhancement or just to explore and realise a personal goal can actually be beneficial for you.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop,” Confucius

Further education has been shown to have a positive effect on your health and general wellbeing, numerous studies have detailed that continuing to challenge the brain can actually delay the onset of dementia, increase verbal fluency and intelligence thus leading to the majority of case studies becoming happier, confident and more fulfilled in their daily lives (University of Edinburgh Annals of Neurology).

However, it just keeps getting better, as stated by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in its recently published ‘Education at a glance 2016’, “Improved employment opportunities are not the only good outcome for those investing in further/higher education: they generally have better health, lower morbidity rates and longer life expectancy and are more socially engaged.”

So it seems that challenging yourself academically can actually result in genuine health and wellbeing benefits, what better reason to dust off the little grey cells and get learning?

Further education is often linked to mature students but this is not the case, thanks to an abundance of on-line courses, faculties offering community classes, gaining access to and continuing your path of further education has never been simpler, no matter what your age or gender. Whether you want to join a group class, study alongside your existing work obligations or prefer to learn in the comfort of your own home.  With all the options available, it’s easy to find the course that works for you, one suited to your personal pace.

The business sector is now waking up to the numerous benefits of further education; OECD has stated, “Investing in education pays off in the long run for both men and women and the more educated you are, the better off financially you are likely to be. A university education has become increasingly important in all countries, as the labour market is becoming more knowledge based, and workers are progressively required to possess those skills or have the ability to learn them.”

In the words of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Father Emir, “The new world educational system recognised that education is a universal right and hence enables students wherever they might be to have access to the means of innovation, creativity, acquisition of knowledge and expertise and the practise of responsibility.”

This is genuinely reflected in the four guiding principles of the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV2030), on which the State of Qatar aims to create a sustainable economy whilst continuing to improve the standard of living for its people both in the public and the private sectors:

Human development – the development and promotion of education among all to create a sustainable and prosperous society.

Social development – the development of a just and caring society, capable of playing a key role in establishing global partnerships.

Economic development – the development of a diverse economic base to secure and maintain a high standard of living in the future.

Environmental development – to maintain a balance between economic and social development and ways of protecting the environment.

How often have we heard the whispered phrase ‘rice bowl mentality’? The art of knowledge hoarding as opposed to knowledge sharing seems more prevalent than ever? Nowadays the old adage ‘knowledge is power’ has somehow transformed into a fear of sharing personal/professional knowledge as by doing so you somehow weaken your professional standing and increase your colleagues by default.

A prime example of a local company who has identified the benefits of further education and the need for knowledge sharing; applicable to both its personnel and professional resources is Quantum Global Solutions. Sharing knowledge and encouraging further education within an organisation has been shown to increase personal performance, improve employee engagement and create happier clients.

Quantum actively offers incentives to their employees to embrace further education by paying for 50 per cent of each course studied and upon successful course completion the 50 per cent paid for by the employee is refunded. The view held by Quantum management is that by continually improving the academic level of their employees, they ultimately achieve a better quality of workforce and better results for both themselves as well as their clients. Thus creating a lasting legacy for the company and their employees, after all a company built on the principles of knowledge sharing is a company built to last.

Additionally, Quantum promotes the open sharing of knowledge not only with its employees but also with its industry peers. Many of Quantum’s employees regularly speak or contribute at local and worldwide industry events.

The downside for potential home based students is that they don’t have access to corporate workplace continuous learning opportunities or structured support. But thankfully there are numerous alternative further education options available both locally and worldwide.

Perhaps one of the most widely recognised further education establishments is The Open University (OU) which is a public distance learning and research university, and one of the biggest universities in the UK for undergraduate education. Historically on-line courses offered by the OU were primarily UK based but the hunger to learn more has resulted in the OU now offering a fabulous selection of worldwide on-line courses.

Indeed, many other universities worldwide have realised that a wealth of potential students are merely a click away and eager to learn, and in response now offer endless varied and accessible on-line learning courses. 

Of course, further education is not limited to laptop or distant faculty learning, many further education opportunities are available within the field of art, dance, music or lifestyle and better yet these are available locally.

• VCU Qatar, Community Education Programme, this faculty offers a variety of art, design and cultural courses.

• IAID (Academy for Dance, Music and Arts, A legacy of dreams.

• Many other local learning courses are regularly advertised in monthly magazines … get searching.

Any and all learning brings meaning and new purpose to life; it gives the student a sense of well-being, self-worth and direction. A new skill can add a new dimension to your character, clarity to the chaos that we call life. It can empower you to take control and ultimately achieve that aspiration that has been too long pushed to one side in favour of what needs to be done.

Brain Boosting Benefits

As you work hard to re-energise your mind and rise to the challenge, your brain in turn works harder;

1. You will become more perceptive, your cognitive skills will increase and comprehension abilities will become keener.

2. As your brain power is further exercised the ability to multi-task becomes easier … Hooray always a handy skill.

3. Your memory will improve, putting it simply the more you use your brain the better its functions work. Taking up a new challenge via further education is like giving your brain a workout every day in its very own gym.

4. Through personal fulfilment, you will become calmer, more assured, self-confident and happier.

The reason to take that first step can be varied, almost as much as the endless courses on offer;

Qatar resident Rubie Tajede says, “I decided to pursue further education in Special Education Needs (SEN) because I am keen to understand the needs of children who have special needs. I hope to become a SEN teacher and help those individuals who have physical disabilities, sensory impairments and speech and language difficulties. I am a mother of a child with autism. Having this knowledge will help me understand him better and deal with him correctly. I find that the current curriculum in my country (compared to abroad) is not enough to satiate my desire to learn about the programme. However, I do believe that at the moment, the best tools available in this country are easy enough to access for those who are truly willing to pursue a career in the line of Special Education.”

So instead of just talking about trying that new course, give yourself the gift of time and take your first step on the path to further education and more importantly to personal fulfilment