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Learn to unlearn


“The illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learn,
unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
When we allow ourselves to be controlled by our preconceived and misconceived notions,
governed by myths, conditioned by false assumptions and (mis)guided by wrong opinions we
have formed about people, we are not open to new ideas and are unwilling to undergo a
paradigm shift. When we fail to allow our minds to let go of “mis-and-dis-beliefs” we have held
and learnt over a period of time, we don’t allow ourselves to blossom.
A close introspection will help us know whether we are really interested in unlearning what we
have learnt. Unlearning makes us literate, educated, and wise. Unfortunately, the topic
“unlearning” has not been much discussed in academia and the need for it is not emphasized in
our educational institutions.
What is unlearning?
Unlearning is the process of realising that something which we learnt earlier is incorrect,
ineffective, or obsolete, admitting it and deciding to erase such bad conditioning and
misconceptions from our mind for good. It is the process of exploring what we have stored in our
system and deleting all the unnecessary data. It is the process of saying bye to an old, obsolete,
and outdated paradigm, and embracing a new paradigm and willingly undergoing a paradigm
Ways of unlearning
The first step towards becoming an “unlearner” is not just to have a thirst for knowledge but to
question our knowledge. Discussing our knowledge with those who are competent in a particular
field, being challenged constantly, and being ready to be proved wrong will help us understand
whether what we have learnt is still relevant or obsolete. It is also important to question one’s
belief system and check whether we are treating myths as scientific facts.

The next important step is to take steps to develop creative and critical thinking.
Unlearning is required not only in educational institutions but also in workplaces. Not only
teachers and students but everyone, irrespective of his/her profession, needs to learn to unlearn as
it is the first step towards acquiring real knowledge.
Attaining knowledge is easy but attaining wisdom is difficult.
What Lao Tzu says is quite relevant today: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain
wisdom, remove things every day.”
The author is an academic, columnist, and freelance writer. He can be contacted at

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