The Maori word for learning, ako, does not “differentiate between those who dispense knowledge and those who acquire it. Knowledge is always a collective entity”[1]. Why do we not have a word just like this? Education is a reciprocal process in which the teacher and student embark on a quest together to find out something new about themselves, each other, the subject matter, the journey itself…

It is not a new phenomenon to challenge the notion of teacher as fountain of knowledge and student as recipient of that knowledge. The expression education is not filling a vessel but kindling a flame comes to us from Plutarch: “understanding is not a vessel which must be filled, but firewood, which needs to be kindled; and love of learning and love of truth are what should kindle it”[2]. In my teaching practice, I need to ensure that I remember this in the midst of planning, implementing, and evaluating lessons.

As a student of education, I am in a unique position to truly feel these two worlds colliding on a very real level. As a child, my mother would help me learn for exams. This process involved teaching me how to make mind-maps, how to summarise, how to write, and finally it involved me teaching her what I had learned. She would say “tell me about clouds” and I would explain how each cloud was formed, and why Jo’burg has such beautiful thunderstorms because of the high-pressure cell centred right over the middle of South Africa. Nothing much has changed for me, except I’m seesawing between student and teacher more these days.

Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.
A man without an education is like a building without a foundation.
Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish
and he sits on a boat all day getting drunk.

All these sentiments can seem clichéd in their repetition, and too often I get trapped in acting without reflecting and instead focus on getting through everything on my to-do list. This is why I wish that my language had an equivalent word for ako. I truly believe in the notion of lifelong learning. Ako is a reminder of this lifelong learning in which we are all students and teachers simultaneously. It is important to remember that to teach is to learn and to learn is to teach.


[1] Findsen in Merriam, S.B., Caffarella, R.S., Baumgartner, L.M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
[2] Quotes for teachers. A to Z teacher stuff. Retrieved from:  http://tips.atozteacherstuff.com/464/quotes-for-teachers-education-is-the-kindling-of-a-flame/. (Accessed 24 March 2015)

Check out my other learning posts.
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