One of the world’s best-known geniuses – Albert Einstein – once said: “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
And Einstein was certainly someone who saw the benefit of lifelong learning. Before his theory of general relativity made him famous around the world at the age of 40, his intelligence was not exactly recognised by all who came into contact with him. At the age of 16 he failed the general knowledge section of a university entrance exam, and he was later held back from promotion in his job at the patent office because he was not seen to have “mastered” the new “machine technology”.
Theoretical physics of space and time may not be your particular bag, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still expand your mind and broaden your horizons with some of the adult education classes offered by Edinburgh City Council, where people are offered the chance to learn about anything from how to make a comic book, to how to tell your Goosander from your Gadwell.
In recent years programmes such as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ have encouraged more and more people to research their own family tree and an evening class at Boroughmuir High School could be just the thing for budding genealogists.
Tutor Bob Starratt, who lives in the east of Edinburgh but was born in New England in the United States, first got interested in researching his family tree as a teenager, when his terminally ill grandfather told him stories of how their ancestors had travelled from Scotland to the New World via Northern Ireland in the 17th Century.
He said: “I ended up moving to Edinburgh to study history. Now I teach a number of classes showing people how to trace back their own family tree.
“Most people manage to trace their family back as early as the 1800s and some get even further, and everyone finds something that they weren’t expecting.”
Budding authors looking to bring their story to the wider world can get some expert help from tutor Kirsteen Wright, 37, who runs classes on publishing e-books at Tynecastle High.
She said: “I discovered when I was attempting to put one together myself a couple of years ago that it’s not quite as simple as it’s made out to be.
“The classes can help people get to grips with the technical aspects, and provide tips on things like how to lay your book properly and professionally out on the page. I know of at least one woman from my last class who has already gotten her book finished and published – but she did it under a pseudonym so I’ll never know if I had a hand in a best seller.”
And for those who think “a picture paints a thousand words”, Edward Ross runs a class on how to create your own comic book, beginning at Leith Academy on Thursday.
Mr Ross, 28, said: “You don’t need permission or a degree to make comic books, you just need a good idea and a bit of confidence. This class can teach you things like how to develop characters, how story information flows between panels and how the reader takes information from the page.”
Of course adult learning doesn’t always have to involve books, or even a classroom.
Iraya Noble, 30, who was born in the Canary Islands but moved to the Capital in 2009 in search of “adventure”, has been teaching belly dancing at Leith Academy for the past four years.
Ms Noble, who lives in Newington, said: “I fell in love with Arabic music while training in contemporary dance in Spain and I love teaching people to express themselves through movement. Belly dancing is great for co-ordination and strength, and also helps strengthen your core muscles. So far all of my classes have been female, but men can learn too, and many perform this type of dancing in other countries.
“After the class block is finished we go and perform in Hafla’s, which is an Arabic word for “parties” all over the city. They’re a lot of fun and provide a safe space for the students to show off what they have learned, and make new friends.”
If you think parties were best consigned to school days and want something relaxing, Juliet Wilson’s birdwatching course at Broughton High could be just the thing.
Ms Wilson, 47, who lives in Dalry, said: “I’ve seen birds from all over the world, and even lived in Malawi for a few years, but I honestly believe that Musselburgh is one of the best places to be a birdwatcher in the world. You never know what you’ll see on the John Muir Coastal path and you’ll often find huge numbers of birds congregated on the lagoons. The course is very outdoors based so you also get to see a lot of the local area.”
And if you just can’t decide what you want to do, sign up for Lester Smulski’s course in Life Coaching and Personal Development at Firrhill High.
Mr Smulski, 46, of West Lothian, said: “I try to help people achieve their goals by focussing on what they do want from life, instead of what they don’t. People of all ages have come to me for help improving their situation, from 17 to 80. Keep an open mind, and you can make real changes.”
For full details of all courses, visit the Edinburgh City Council website.