Currently one in nine persons in the world are aged 60 years or over. This ratio is projected to increase to one in five by 2050 – population ageing is a phenomenon that can no longer be ignored.
The New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy published in 2001 it details a vision for a society where people can age positively, where older people are highly valued and recognised as an integral part of families and communities. In it, it states that the ability to age positively is ‘assisted by good investment in education throughout life, to provide individuals with a repertoire of skills and an ability to set and achieve goals… Positive ageing policies aim to improve each individual’s life experiences and create an environment that offers opportunities for continuing participation.’
However, I was surprised to find that only 1% of the education budget in New Zealand is currently spent on the oldest third of the population. This seems to be greatly disproportionate, especially as the percentage of older people in our society is only going to increase.
After doing some general research for this topic I came across this interesting group; EU – Broadening People’s Minds in Aging or EUBiA. In the context of demographic change throughout Europe and in view of the importance of learning in later life, EuBiA, a Grundtvig Learning Partnership, was established. Nine organisations from seven countries (AT, CZ, DE, IT, PL, SK, UK) discussed important issues and shared their experiences in the field of learning in later life. They produced some of their findings in this guide. In it, they state the need that ‘all learning opportunities and strategies should be equally applicable to older people, and that senior citizens, including older workers, should have opportunities to participate more actively in society and in the labour market. This includes the role they can play in intergenerational learning.’ One of the main messages that was conveyed was that there is a need to transform traditional educational systems to become much more open and flexible.
I would have to agree with this. Long gone are the days where people stay in the one job for their whole working life. This means that training and retraining are essential parts of your working life. Education shouldn’t only be for the young anymore In saying that, why should learning stop when we retire?
In theory, retirement should be the perfect time to learn new things – you have both the money as well as the time to commit to it. Why then is reality quite the opposite?
Part of the problem is that society sees the older population as a portion of society who no longer contributes, therefore, they do not need to learn new things. This view needs to change. For one, learning keeps our minds active which is important when trying to combat diseases such as dementia. Also, learning institutions such as universities and polytechnics could provide perfect spaces for intergenerational learning and at a more basic level, spaces where people can communicate with each other, reducing isolation and feelings of uselessness and depression.
Over the next month I shall be unveiling information around all aspects of education that relates to the older person. If you have any suggestions around topics feel free to leave a comment!