I have recently been thinking about education and what this means. Part of the reason for this, I suppose, is that I have recently finished my latest qualification, a masters degree in something called ‘work-based learning’. I suspect that there will be at least some of you who don’t really know what this is, and to be honest. I didn’t either until I did a lot of research on the internet and found the rather amazing course that I have just finished at a rather amazing university with a rather amazing tutor. This was far from the sort of courses we have all suffered through which perhaps should have been called ‘curses’, although truth be told I cannot think of all that many of these, as I think there is always something to learn and I aim to learn, rather than be taught, even if some courses seem designed to induce somnolence or worse. Even so, numbing one’s brain and backside simultaneously seems a rather inefficient way of doing this.

As I was saying, I was thinking about education and what this means, and for some reason certain songs popped into my head. Once of these was from a popular beat combo called Pink Floyd, whose seminal album, The Wall, contains a song called, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, which is essentially anti-education or rather anti-school, at least as far as bullying teachers and ‘thought control’ are concerned. Other notable school-related songs which I recall from my youth include the song ‘School’ from Supertramp’s 1974 album, Crime of the Century, Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’, Alice Cooper’s, ‘School’s Out for the Summer’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Kodachrome’. All of these seem to portray school and learning in a negative context, which I think is a bit sad even if many people have had negative experiences in school and education generally. Oddly, few songs seem to present school and education as a generally happy and joyous experience, although I may well be wrong in this regard.

I suppose I have been lucky in that my experiences of education have been more positive than negative, to the extent that I just keep trying to get more and more, and it has now become something of a hobby. You should know, however, that as a doctor I am required to undertake courses and show that I am learning and keeping my skills up to date. If I didn’t do at least 50 hours of this every year and philosophise (“reflect”) about it all, I would be in big trouble with people more powerful and important that I, so I follow the rules, albeit in my own way.

Part of this involves learning new things and applying old knowledge, skills and experience to the new, but underlying this is my philosophy that education is important, if not vital, for personal, professional and other reasons. Having just spent several years doing my masters in work-based learning, I think that learning from work is important, given that working almost inevitably involves learning, not just about places, processes, organisations and one’s own abilities and career, but also about the downsides of work – stress, awful colleagues, poor working conditions, lack of lie-ins and sadly multiple others. I have found that education has been key to avoiding some of these pitfalls, and that when they have interfered sufficiently in my life to cause difficulties, my education has allowed me to change jobs fairly easily.

In fact, I started the work-based learning course in a job that I now no longer have, and when I started my aim was to assess and improve outcomes of what I was involved with. I thought this would be beneficial to myself, my employer and other involved stakeholders, but unfortunately the powers that be who paid the bills were disinterested and unenthusiastic, to the point that my original project had to be modified somewhat. Happily, with a bit of creative thinking, fantastic support from the university and some hard work a satisfactory outcome was achieved, I gained a worthwhile masters degree and all that this entails and was able to move on to pastures new, fresh and exciting.

I suppose that when it comes to education it is not always just knowledge one gets from this, but also a great deal of experience, good and bad. Formal study is hard work, doing exams, assignments, doing research and writing a dissertation are never easy but they do force one to learn. At the time it is easy to ask oneself, ‘Why I am doing this?’, ‘What is the point? ‘Am I mad?’ (etc), but getting through it all and succeeding is an amazing feeling and one I personally never tire of. It is a bit like going to the gym – very hard work, and during it all when one is in pain and struggling to breathe it is tempting to give up, but continuing and getting to the end is an achievement, all the more satisfying for getting through it. And it helps in so many ways.

Similarly, doing any sort of course is also a challenge, yet one which, when confronted and worked through, yields results. The same is true of difficult situations and their resolution; at the time it is awful yet eventually things sort themselves out, often with available tools such as mediation or other means of conflict resolution. These tools are well worth knowing more about, and I would encourage anyone who has to work for a living or deal with any sort of difficult situation to learn more about them.

So while some may well like to quote Pink Floyd and say that “we don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”, I beg to differ, and suggest that education is the opposite of thought control. Education is more than just a collection of letters, it is perhaps the key to personal and professional satisfaction, and the more one has the better things can get, especially when things go wrong. And when all else fails, music may well help here, with the late, great John Lennon of Beatles fame even mentioning mediation in his seminal song, ‘Give Peace a Chance’.  Definitely something to think about next time we find ourselves in times of trouble…