I originally hesitated to write this column where I wanted to write something to help young people to understand better what is worth doing and what is worth avoiding in the first decades of their lives. I feared nobody would read the column because, as parents know, young people are notoriously bad listeners. But, on the other hand, there is always the chance that it will strike gold with at least one reader! So here we go… This column is not a waste of time, but a gold mining exercise.
When I was a young boy in the UK, I tried to learn by “going it alone” and almost failed. My parents were not that interested in guiding me at school because they had their own stuff to worry about. They had just finished ten years of living in London where the war and bombs had destroyed family, friends and buildings. In their opinion school and universities were for a limited middle-class to which they aspired but did not belong. I was a fair student, but not a good one, and there was no-one to talk to. In those days, the teachers in London were remote. They cared less about poor and average pupils, caring more about the ones at the top of the class. Subjective grading of pupils into good and bad classes was the rule, and you normally stayed where you were placed until leaving school at 16 or 18 years old.
Back in the 1950s, things at British schools were totally different from today’s Finnish education system that offers wonderful opportunities. The school system here is designed to support pupils at every stage of learning and help them make smart decisions about their future education paths. If you are willing to apply yourself to study and learn, opportunities abound for study and jobs, here and abroad. Small countries like Finland have grasped the strategic value of life-long education.
I will never forget the moment I managed to read a book from cover to cover in the library, without falling asleep when starting the first pages. That happened around 1968, when I was 19 years old, during my second year at university. Previously reading had been a painful experience, and only later did I discover that I suffered from a form of dyslexia, a serious reading impediment. Learning from books was hard but learning from teachers explaining topics in class was easy. I could “see” numbers, “hear” spoken foreign languages, and pick up complex facts by listening, but learning by reading was hard and that made written exams difficult for me.
At the end of that first year at university, I was told to improve my exam performance or fail and lose my place and scholarship. That decision meant I had to find a way to read the endless piles of books in the library. I was fortunate to understand that I had to teach myself to read, and that meant sitting in the library for 12 hours each day, until I managed to read the books and absorb their contents.
Nobody knew then that I had a serious learning handicap called dyslexia because it was only discovered a few years later by Professor Tim Mills who founded the British Dyslexia Association in 1972. Not even I understood the medical nature of the problem until I almost failed to pass the exams at the end of that first university year. The newly learnt skill changed my life radically by giving me a new ability to learn, read, and write. The recovery process was slow and even today, when tired or travelling in a plane, where oxygen levels are low, I can still experience that lost sensation when written lines do not register in my head.
Even though we now know more about dyslexia, an impediment suffered mainly by boys, and even though our schools are now well equipped to teach more effectively, there are even bigger threats that slow down and harm the learning processes.
These are caused by the digital meteorites that have collided with all parts of our globe with destructive forces. This “great liberator of democracy and transparency” has now imprisoned the minds of many of our young folk who stare for hours each day at their screens. They have created chaotic rivers of false news and created huge waves of propaganda in the social media that have weakened our democratic process. A whole new media ecosystem, developed by Big Tech and powerful a few global digital channels, is spreading falsehoods that mislead large swathes of the populations. Good independent journalism has been weakened when high quality newspapers and magazines have been robbed of advertising revenues. Social divides have deepened as some politicians have moved to more extreme positions on the political spectrum in ruthless attempts to grab power even when democratic elections are won by others.
In the end the only possible solution is resist the incessant dumbing down and to understand the importance of education, knowledge, and culture and rely less on watching these mobile screens and laptops presenting their endless flood of pictures and tweets.
We must encourage our young and our partners not to carry their mobile phones 24/7, but pick up a book, a newspaper, or a magazine like Forum to learn to read and to learn and be more critical of what is going on around us. That is where you will find the gold mine like me.
By Nicholas Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of FinnishNews – First published in Swedish, February 2021 in Affärsmagasinet Forum / Forum Business Magazine