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Supporting lifelong learning

A significant tool in the continuity of lifelong learning is the community environment (CE). A community environment integrates resources, services, social networks and service-based learning programs for the holistic development of students and the uplifting of the community. CEs are a resource that helps schools and families (students, educators and parents), and in return educators and students contribute to the community environment; it is a relationship of reciprocity through collaboration.

Dr. Joy Epstein, research professor of education and sociology at Johns Hopkins University, posits that community environments make up one of three primary pillars in the collaborative development of the learning process. The other two pillars are the home environment and the school environment. Collaboration between the three translates into corporate social responsibility (CSR) and community-based organizations’ (CBO) connecting student and parent engagement (home) with education (school) toward a common and often national or universal goal.

CSR has the dual role of encouraging business and community growth. The development of both happens through investing or reinvesting a company’s knowledge, skills and finances (resources) toward the priority needs of the country. CSR-supported goals attract employers because they often produce sustainable changes that are in line with their values, their companies’ missions, the community’s needs and the country’s goals, and can yield substantial results.

Merging CSR and CBO with learning allows businesses to benefit from student resources and develops positive character traits in both employee volunteers and participating students, creating the perfect environment to foster lifelong learning. Other reasons for companies to engage in CSR for lifelong learning are:

1. Employees have an interest in giving back. More and more companies have developed foundations with the sole purpose of supporting projects that add value to the environment.

2. There can be a measurable impact on the community. Corporate resources can contribute to a significant change in a person’s future. Giving to education leads to an increased opportunity to learn.

3. It is the right thing to do. Helping others allows us the opportunity to focus outside of ourselves and share our talents and resources with others.

Students and employees contribute their sweat equity in a corporate-sponsored community development event or project (also known as service learning) toward a common goal. Through these relationships, corporations and organizations allow students to add their skills and talents to brighten and support their neighborhoods, communities and country; and in so doing, the students, teachers and families gain new knowledge about their neighbors, island and country by applying school skills to real-world situations.

The idea is that if students understand how they will use math and reading, they will be more engaged in the process of learning them. For example, every day, outside of the school environment corporations share their finance (math) and information resources (reading/literacy) in alignment with community needs. The real-world application then extends the learning process out of the classroom and into the community. Subsequently, the reasons for going to school and learning would, in theory, be more meaningful.

Identifying and integrating community resources in many ways to improve schools, strengthen families and assist students to succeed in school and life, ultimately creates a sustainable Bahamas with strong ethical values. Programs that integrate organization and learning improve student achievement and increase student service through learning. Sharing skills and talents through partnerships involving school, civic organizations, counselling, health education, cultural, recreation, social integration and other services, allows students and persons in organizations to combine education service with other agencies and grassroots organizations and businesses.

Companies and organizations can support lifelong learning by providing opportunities for students and families to participate in community programs. In addition to Dr. Epstein there is a growing number of scholars who are advocating for stronger, more efficient ties that support collaboration between the three pillars, and as a result, there are training programs that companies, schools and parents are seeking to access. Each pillar is engaging in a learning process to acquire the tools to effect change within a collaborative relationship model.

Noted authors, including John Maxwell and Stephen Covey (author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), who support the idea of development through collaborative relationships, have each developed training tools to help us in the process of learning and creating environments that encourage continual growth through an exchange of knowledge and resources.

The Covey model looks at the development of families, schools and corporations as individual entities but connects each through the Habit of Sharing, (the eighth habit) sharing one’s knowledge, talents, time and finances (resources), for the betterment and growth of others as well as self.

When we integrate resources and service and reinforce lessons through workshops and programs that advocate the strengthening of connections, we get programs and organizations that are innovative. A program that builds toward community sustainability, when we incorporate ethical values through volunteerism, effects real and lasting change by working together to respond to the nation’s call to eradicate barriers like illiteracy in the Bahamas.

Companies and organizations have significant roles to play in the lifelong learning process and the education, development and well-being of students. The path to a stronger nation is in the cultivation of strong home school and community relationships to promote healthy community ties, more civic-minded individuals.

• D’Ondré Miller is the director of CFE development for Queen’s College Centre for Further Education. She can be reached at dmiller@qchenceforth.com.

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