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Lifelong Learning

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lifelong Learning

[Translation of Educación Permanente by Germán Machado published in Libro de Notas on 17-November-2006]

I haven’t accepted a leaflet on the street for a long time. I am not counting those that are delivered to the house, but one of those they hand out. I systematically avoid people who hand them out. If I am walking on the pavement and see someone handing out leaflets, I calculate my time until they are occupied with someone else and then pass by, avoiding them. I have even gone to the length of crossing the street to the other side to avoid young men or women handing out brochures promoting massage parlours, restaurants with gourmet menus, take-away pizzas, shoe warehouses, half-price jeans...

It’s not that I look down on the people that do this type of work. Not at all. They are only earning an honest living. I don’t want to take their leaflets because I don’t know what to do with the paper afterwards. I don’t like throwing litter on the ground. I think it’s wrong. During the course that I took in the summer on the Protection of the Environment and Social Cleanliness, they taught us to be very careful with what we do with waste, all waste.

In our city, anyone can understand my problem; you can walk for block after block without ever finding a litter bin. Those put up by the council are generally broken or full to overflowing. Usually, when I am given a brochure I end up by keeping it in my pocket and then I have to get rid of it at home, or in the office, depending on which direction I am going. In any case, it’s a bother. That’s why I haven’t accepted a leaflet on the street for a long time.

Today, however, I got one. The young lady who was handing them out took me by surprise. I didn’t see her first. When I reached the corner, she turned on her heels and fired at point blank range, “Take one”, she said. She held out her hand at the height of my chest, and in her hand was the leaflet.

I was on the point of rejecting it. I was going to say no, thanks, I don’t need one, I was given one recently. But the girl smiled sweetly, full of confidence that I was going to take it. And I took it.

I kept the leaflet in my pocket and when I reached the office, and before throwing it in the waste paper bin, I thought I would take a look. It was advertising a course for Advanced Mobile Phone User.

The leaflet said, “Become an expert mobile phone user in just one month. Make calls. Receive calls efficiently. Send text messages. Use voicemail correctly. Block and unblock the keyboard. Store and find names in the directory. Find out everything that you can do with a mobile phone. Expert trainers. Places limited. Diploma on passing the final examination. Courses start on the 10th of each month. Timetable: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 18:00 to 19:00”.

At the bottom of the leaflet was the address of the college. It was just around the corner from the office. There was also a telephone number to ring.

* * *

It’s the 9th of August. The course is going to start tomorrow. I don’t know why, but I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add another qualification to my curriculum: Mobile Phone User. Obviously, I have to get a mobile phone first, because I don’t currently have one.

The leaflet doesn’t say that you have to have a cell phone to take part in the course. It also doesn’t mention the fee, nor if you have to have any previous experience before enrolling. I will call to ask, and then I'll decide.

I sat down at my desk and quickly completed the work that I had for the morning. When I had a few moments free, I called the college. The woman on the phone was very pleasant. She explained that it wasn’t necessary to have previous experience. That it was useful to come with your own phone. She said that the cost of the course was twenty pounds. I have do decide quickly because the course starts tomorrow and there are only three places left.

I spent the rest of the morning thinking about whether I should or shouldn’t attend the course.

I would have asked Mariella, my office colleague and the boss’ secretary, if she wasn’t in such a bad mood.

First thing that morning the boss made a comment to Mariella that she thought was out of place. I prefer not to pester her while she is angry. I’ll have to decide what to do on my own.

I begin to think about it: the timetable is convenient as it starts half an hour after I finish work. I don’t have any problems with the money; last month I saved enough to pay for the course and I will even have enough to buy a mobile phone; if I decide to enrol, of course.

* * *

At lunch time I went out to eat at the burger bar. As I was walking there, I saw a shop selling mobile phones in the same block. The shop had been there some time, but I had never paid it any attention. I remembered something that I learned on the Management of the Visual Environment course that I did last year. They had explained that you only pay attention to those things that have caught your attention to before. That’s true. Since this morning my attention had been directed at mobile phones and for this reason, now, I saw the shop selling them that I had never noticed before.

I stopped to take a look in the window. There were all sorts of mobile phones. I went in and asked to see some that weren’t too expensive. I bought one. The girl who sold it to me offered to explain how it worked. I told her it wasn’t necessary, that she shouldn’t trouble, that I was going to find out for myself. In short: I had decided to take the course.

Before returning to the office, I went by the academy to enrol.

The academy was in an old building where they give different types of courses: Computing, graphic design, electronics, communications and so on. I went in. The girl who had answered the telephone before was in the reception. I recognised her by her voice. I learned how to recognise people by their voices when I did the Recognising People by Visual Appearance and Tone of Voice course a few years ago.

When she saw me come in the girl greeted me kindly. She asked me what I wanted. I explained that I had phoned earlier that morning to enquire about the Mobile Phone User course and I had decided to take it. “I have come to enrol”, I concluded.

She was delighted and told me that I had to fill out an enrolment form. Once we had completed all the formalities, and she never stopped smiling, she congratulated me on my decision. “Welcome”, she added, while she handed me the enrolment certificate.

* * *

Today is Thursday, the 10th of August. I start the course. The trainer is young and smart. He knows how to look formal while dressed in casual clothes. The impression he gives his audience is of a modern and clever person. I take note. He exactly matches the definition of “young thinker” I learned about in the course on Semiotics of Presence and the Art of Dressing Well, a quick course of the many I did before attending the Voluntary Work and First Aid Workshop for a term more than three years ago.

The first class was entertaining. It was a typical introductory class. The trainer made all of us talk about ourselves. Some nine people, mostly adults. Then, elegantly and with a certain air of superiority, he described the objectives and the programme for the Mobile Phone User Diploma.

In order to calm the anxieties that are common in these types of short and intense courses, the trainer explained very clearly how the final examination would be conducted. “There will be four exercises", he said. “The first, to make a call; the second, to answer a missed call; the third, to add a number to the directory of the device; the fourth, to send a text message. It won’t be very difficult,” he concluded.

The class was more practical than theoretical. It progressed at a light-hearted and brisk pace, even though it was interrupted by the ringing of various phone tones, which erupted chaotically and uncontrollably among the giggles of the students.

At the end of the first class, I already knew how to switch on and switch off my mobile. I had chosen a Schubert symphony as the ring-tone. I had also learned how to re-charge the battery, which I do at night before going to bed.

* * *

The month of the course flew by. There was a lot of work to do in the office and at home I spent hours doing the exercises that the trainer set every Tuesday and Thursday. I found it easy to learn everything that he taught in class. I don’t want it to sound like boasting, but after a month of intense work, I think that I really have become an expert mobile phone user.

Mariella, who this month seemed much happier, was my best ally. She answered my calls and replied to my text messages each time that I was doing those exercises.

Right at the start, Mariella noticed that I had bought a mobile phone. “What do you want it for?” she asked. “You never talk to anyone.” I explained to her that I never talked to anyone because I didn’t have a mobile phone and this is precisely what I wanted to correct.

During office hours, Mariella spends the whole time sending and receiving messages. I think this is why the boss made the comment that upset her last time. In spite of the threat that the boss might reprimand her again, we practised in the office, sending messages from one desk to the other.

She was quite pleased about the bond that we were forming. “Our bond,” Mariella used to say. She often used to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the different mobiles that came on the market. Also, I also think Mariella was happy because when we started practising, I gave her a top-up card for her mobile. It was the least I could do, considering the trouble to which she would go, answering my calls and messages each time. Calls and messages in which we said things like: I’m over here, I’m going, I coming, I’ll see you in a moment, bye.

I didn’t say anything to Mariella about the course that I was doing. I only told her that I needed to practise. I don’t think it's right that just anyone should be able to do a course and then compete with you when you present your curriculum for a job. Today we are allies and good colleagues, but if tomorrow we have to compete for a promotion in the company, she and I will be fierce enemies; this is what I learned in the Business Coaching and Setting a Good Example course that I did a few years ago. Time will tell.

* * *

Today I will be doing the end of course test. It’s the 7th of September. Thursday. If everything goes well, today I will get my Mobile Phone User Diploma. MPUD, as the trainer calls it. I'm not at all nervous. But I asked to be let out of the office a half hour earlier so I can practise a little before the test.

* * *

It’s an individual test. The course trainer and the General Coordinator of the academy, a woman who looks ambitious but is very friendly, are at the examination table.

We go in one by one. When my turn comes, I am completely calm.

I go into the room. The trainer greets me and asks me if I am ready. I have my phone switched on in my hand. I answer affirmatively. To start, he asks me to add his phone number and that of the General Coordinator to my phone directory. He dictates them to me. I complete this task rapidly. When I finish, the trainer is encouraging, “Good, well done,” he says.

Then he asks me to call the General Coordinator. I do this with ease. While I am talking with her, he calls my phone. It appears as a missed call on my machine. When I finish talking with the General Coordinator, he asks me to retrieve the missed call. I do it. Meanwhile, he sends me a text message.

I didn’t say this before, but this allows me to make a little digression: something that we all noticed and commented on in the class is the speed with which the trainer plays his thumb over the keyboard. The amount of text that he can write in just a few seconds in incredible. I doubt that any of us will ever be able to beat him at it.

So, when I have recovered his missed call but haven’t yet answered it, Schubert plays on my phone telling me that I have a text message. I read it. It is the message from the trainer. It tells me that this is the last test, and asks me if I am satisfied with the results of the course. “Reply in three words,” is the instruction at the end of the message. I reply with my thumb, neither too quickly, nor too slowly, “I’m very satisfied.” And then I push the SEND key.

The trainer’s phone rings, telling him he has a message. It’s my message. The trainer reads it and responds immediately. Now my phone rings. I read the message that has just arrived, “Congratulations!” It says. “You have passed.”

The General Coordinator at the other side of the table stands up and congratulates me. She holds out her hand. The trainer does the same. When I take his hand, I feel the callus on his thumb in the palm of my hand. It’s course, corrugated, alphanumeric.

I thank the trainer, using the technique I learned in the course on Negotiation and Good Manners that I did while finishing my A-Levels. The General Coordinator fills out the diploma, a form embossed with the logo of the Academy. She writes my name and the qualification I have achieved: “Excellent”, she scrawls in a handwriting style that seems a little inadequate for the occasion. She signs and gives the diploma to the trainer for his signature. Then they give it to me. When I leave the room, the trainer calls the next student.

Feeling very satisfied and on the point of leaving the Academy, I delay a while in the hall. I have my mobile phone in a holder attached to the belt of my trousers. I am passing through when the Academy secretary gives me a leaflet. Smiling, she explains that it is a course for Fax Users and Telephone Switchboard Operators that starts next week. She warns me that not many places are left, but she will reserve a place until Monday as the students of the Mobile Phone course have preference.

I thank her for her consideration. I tell her that I will think about it, and I leave. Now in the street, with the leaflet in my hand, I mentally review the sheets I have attached to my curriculum, to which I will add the diploma that I have in my other hand. I ask myself if Mariella will have a Fax User diploma. I doubt it.



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