The OUC Open University for Older Adults was officially inaugurated on 28th January 2015.
On 9th May 2018, the “Senior Education” Forum jointly hosted by the Open University of China (OUC) and the China Association of Social Welfare and Senior Service was held at the China National Convention Centre in Beijing. As one of the sub-sessions of the 7th China International Senior Services Expo, it attracted nearly 300 experts and insiders from the fields of education, culture, and communication and local industries all over China.
OUC vice president Liu Chen invited director Xie Laiyi from the Career Development and Integrated Management Office of the OUC Open University for Older Adults to share his experience of promoting the construction and innovative development of the Open University for Older Adults by delivering a speech themed Promoting the Innovative Development of the Open University for Older Adults and Building a New Pattern of Distance Education.
I. New Era, New Mission
The ageing population is one of the fundamental realities of China in the 21st Century and the 13th Five-Year Plan period represents an even more significant strategic period for China to deal with population ageing. In October 2016, the General Office of the State Council promulgated the Development Plan for Education for the Elderly (2016-2020) (hereinafter referred to as the Plan) and accelerated the development of education for the elderly. It proposed “integrating information technology into the entire process of senior education and teaching to advance the integration of online and offline teaching, support older adults in their online learning, boost the openness of various educational institutions, and push forwards education for the elderly by making use of the internet and other scientific and technological means”. In addition, the “advancement plan for distance education for older adults” states that “By 2020, efforts will be made to make distance education for older adults available in 50 percent of counties (cities and districts at the same level).” The policy makes clear that distance education should support education for the elderly made specific requirements for the development of education for older adults in the OUC and the open university (or radio and TV university, RTVU in short) system.
Distance education for older adults dates back a long time in China. The OUC and the OUC (RTVU) system have been engaged in education for the elderly since the 1980s, always making use of their technological advantages. After more than 30 years of development, it has accumulated rich operational experience in distance education for older adults. In 2015, the OUC unveiled the Open University for Older Adults. Despite its late start, it has played a demonstrative and guiding role in advancing elderly distance education by making use of its own educational organisation system that covers urban and rural areas in China, its advanced modern information application capacity and level, and its rich experience in open and distance education and massive high quality education resources. Soon after the establishment of the Open University for Older Adults, several provinces, municipalities, and regions, including Zhejiang, Inner Mongolia, Beijing, and Liaoning, established their own open universities for older adults, senior cadre (open) universities, and universities (colleges) for the elderly, relying on local open universities and RTVUs.
The new era and new situation in China have given senior education new tasks and missions. In order to adapt to the new development trends of distance education for the elderly, the OUC promulgated the 13th Five-Year Plan for the Reform and Construction of the Open University of China in order to enhance distance education for older adults in China’s open university system by creating the “advancement plan for education for older adults” in December 2016.
II. New University, New Thinking
As an explorer and leader of education for the elderly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has been committed to the development of distance education for the elderly ever since its establishment. It has made proposals on principles to socialize education purpose and concept, to diversify its education system and mechanism, and to advance teaching contents and methods, so as to build a new type of open university for older adults.
Firstly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has benefited new groups. When it was first established, the OUC Open University for Older Adults indicated that it would support two groups, namely, senior citizens and practitioners in the elderly services industry. The first serves more elderly groups, transiting from elderly education oriented towards retired cadres to inclusive education oriented to all elderly members of society; the second is to strengthen the level of professionals in the elderly services industry. Retired members of the teaching staff members have been mobilised to participate in the teaching and volunteer team for education for the elderly. The elderly are encouraged to actively serve society, young teachers and volunteers are encouraged to serve elderly education, and primary teaching and service teams for distance education for older adults are organised.
Secondly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has created a new mechanism. Relying on the conditions and advantages of itself and its cooperative partners, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has formulated education institutions to serve the elderly based on the internet and the mobile internet, integrating high quality resources from the government, industries, and society. With the full cooperation and coordinated development of related institutions, education is the starting point to meet the learning needs of the target groups supported by the education system and modern information technology.
Thirdly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has shaped new models. In response to the diverse learning needs of the elderly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has given to equal priority to degree and non-degree education and made the accumulation and transfer of credits a reality by relying on the OUC credit bank system. A learning environment that enables “learning anywhere anytime” has been created for older citizens and employers in the elderly services industry by making use of information technologies such as the internet and cloud computing, creating an interconnected learning platform to improve the service level of distance education for older adults.
Fourthly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has gathered new resources. Beginning with the actual needs of society, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has carefully designed its courses to provide quality support. It has gathered nearly 200,000 minutes of high quality digital learning resources and built a digital learning resource bank for elderly education. It has made the research and development of a super curriculum for elderly education one of the top recommendations in China and compiled a recommendation catalogue. The purpose is to explore a model for joint resource building and sharing and to promote the interconnection of resources in an effort to realise the distributed storage and unified distribution of resources.
Lastly, the OUC Open University for Older Adults has set a new example. The OUC takes the lead in building an experiential centre for elderly health and art education and has played a demonstrative role all over China. Qualified universities for the elderly, open universities, and RTVUs at the provincial, regional, and municipal levels are encouraged to build experience bases for elderly education with local characteristics in order to expand the reach of elderly education and create a combination of education and elderly care by combining learning, health, medicine, tourism, and health care.
III. New Development, New Pattern
In the future, the OUC will pursue the development of distance education for older adults by following the educational concept of a new type of universities for the elderly to create a new situation for the OUC Open University for Older Adults. On one hand, development focuses on distance elderly education by integrating traditional elderly education and strengthening innovation. In other words, the integration of the target groups of education service, the integration of the educational organisation system, the integration of information technology, and the integration of elderly education with industries. On the other hand, elderly education will help the OUC to boost the construction of a lifelong education system and to encourage the formulation of a lifelong learning society for all. Senior citizens can enjoy continuous, consistent learning so as to continuously satisfy the diverse learning needs of the elderly and practitioners in the elderly services industry.