“I seem to have been back in my university days," said Han Yafei, expressing her joy about attending classes at the Seniors University of China (SUC). "I feel younger."

The SUC has now been officially established for a year. Throughout this period, the university has continually enhanced its educational network, innovated its teaching methods, and broadened its range of services for elderly education. Consequently, its courses and services have become increasingly enriched.

Based on the system of the Open University of China (OUC), the SUC has launched 40 provincial branches, close to 3,000 study centres, and 55,000 elderly learning points across the nation. This extensive network extends educational services to townships and sub-districts, as well as villages and neighbourhoods throughout the country.

Learning is the key to successful ageing

"At my age so far, I've never held a paintbrush. Am I able to learn oil painting?" This is the question raised by many to Tang Yingshan, a teacher of oil painting when the SUC launched its first course of oil painting for beginners. Tang encouraged them to "give it a try."

In May 2023, a group of 30 individuals embarked on their artistic journey by enrolling in the "Oil Painting for Beginners" class, boasting an average age of 60. Guided by Tang Yingshan, these students developed a growing passion for oil painting. Their enthusiasm was so great that many were reluctant to leave the classroom when the sessions ended, choosing instead to remain and continue painting for extended periods.

From last November to this January, Tang Yingshan conducted an advanced oil painting course that began with copying and progressed to sketching. The students went from hesitating to pick up a brush to freely using colours and engaging in bold creation.

The university's oil painting classroom is open year-round, attracting many students who continue to paint long after their courses have ended. "Look, I'm not sure when these paintings were made, but there's noticeable improvement," Tang Yingshan said, his excitement palpable during the interview as he examined the new oil paintings in the classroom.

"They are becoming more and more confident, and this confidence is not only reflected in their paintings but also in their outfit, photography, and home design," Tang Yingshan told a reporter from Minsheng Weekly. He explained that learning oil painting, with its rich colours, can enhance aesthetic taste and be of use in life. For example, the students learn about the skill of outfitting from oil painting and are dressed more fashionably.

Tang Yingshan motivates students to display their paintings on the walls of their homes. Additionally, the university organises random displays in classes, end-of-term group exhibitions, and nationwide showcases. Last year, students from three offline oil painting classes completed a total of 328 oil paintings, with 25 selected for display at the Third OUC Online Oil Painting Teaching Achievement Exhibition and the 2023 National OUC Aesthetic Education Teaching Achievement Exhibition.

"This will give the elderly a sense of achievement and fulfillment in their learning," said Tang Yingshan. During the Chinese New Year, some students gave their paintings as gifts. They joyfully told Tang Yingshan, "They can't believe that it was me who did the painting."

"To live long is to learn long," states Zhang Xiangyu, director of the study centre at the Experimental School of the OUC (SUC). According to Zhang, learning is the paramount way to age gracefully. Elderly individuals who engage in academic pursuits at seniors' universities not only advance in their knowledge but also fulfill their emotional needs and derive emotional pleasure.

Tang Yingshan, a teacher in the SUC’s oil painting classroom, showing the reporter the students' works

Developing elderly-friendly courses

In the spring semester of this year, SUC's Weigongcun Campus in Beijing is offering 62 offline courses spanning various subjects including health, humanities, life skills, calligraphy and painting, music, and performance. Each course has proven to be very popular, with most being fully booked.

Ban Wei is a student at the Weigongcun Campus. She enrolled in the Music Reading and Vocal Training course last year. She said, “I have gained a lot from it. I used to sing without much structure, but now I can sing while following the music score”.

This year, Ban Wei has also enrolled in a traditional dance class. She has a clear plan for her life at the SUC: "I plan to sing and dance more in the next few years. When I can't dance anymore, I'll settle down and learn painting and calligraphy."

From a national perspective, the SUC has compiled a total of 436,000 courses tailored to the learning interests of older adults. These courses cover a wide range of topics including home health management, scientific protection, life education, moral cultivation, and vocational skills, accumulating to 4,089,000 minutes of content. This comprehensive curriculum addresses the diverse learning needs of the elderly.

The School of Proactive Health has been established by the SUC, with renowned experts in the field of medicine invited to develop its curriculum system focused on proactive health. "Health is the foundation of everything. We hope that the elderly can manage their health and prevent risks before they get sick," said Zhang Xiangyu. The primary focus of the School of Proactive Health is on health publicity, education, and promotion targeting the elderly."

In his work at the SUC, Zhang Xiangyu has discovered that the most critical challenge for the elderly is facing physical decline. This requires wisdom, courage, and capability.

Zhang Xiangyu informed the reporter that several courses at SUC are specifically designed to assist the elderly in developing various skills. For instance, fine arts courses enable seniors to transcend physical limitations by addressing their higher needs; creative courses offer innovative solutions to challenges faced during the aging process; and psychology courses provide strategies for effectively managing the changes associated with menopause…

The SUC has also published a series of proactive health books, including titles like Social Psychological Adaptation for the Elderly, Nutrition and Elderly Diet, and Exercise and Fitness for the Elderly with the "Three Highs" (hypertension, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia). Additionally, they have developed tabletop games, toys, and cultural and creative products tailored for the elderly, such as "Intangible Cultural Heritage Handicrafts". Furthermore, they've introduced a "Nutrition Calendar for the Dining Table," incorporating educational content into a variety of educational product formats.

Integration of online and offline services

"Last year, I chose the course Freehand Flower and Bird Painting. This year, I chose the courses Flower Arrangement, as well as Psychology and a Better Life," said Han Yafei.

Han Yafei told the reporter that she had always wanted to enroll in the course Flower Arrangement but failed to get a place last year. With the help of alarm set this year, she succeeded in signing herself up for the course in time.

Courses at SUC are highly sought after and often reach full capacity within seconds. Ban Wei volunteered to serve as a customer support representative for the university, handling inquiries via phone. While stationed at the front desk, she received numerous calls regarding course availability and upcoming course schedules.

"The demand is extremely high. I also hope the university can offer more courses, but there are only limited classrooms," said Ban Wei.

To better meet the needs of a broader audience, the SUC fully capitalizes on the OUC’s online education strengths, actively exploring an operational model that integrates online and offline formats. This model includes "small-scale offline courses that drive large-scale online courses," tailored to the learning characteristics of older adults. Consequently, it offers online learning services that are not confined by time or space. These courses, which can be rewatched multiple times, have gained popularity among the elderly nationwide.

For example, last year saw the launch of two integrated online-offline classes in Oil Painting for Beginners. In a novel approach, the real-time experiences of the offline classes were shared through live streaming for free. Furthermore, a dedicated live broadcast channel was established for online learners, offering demonstrations and group guidance. This initiative attracted over 170,000 participants online.

The SUC Liaoning Branch has established a "SUC Zone" on the Liaoning cable TV channel. This initiative offers online learning services to 850,000 cable TV subscribers in Liaoning Province through various methods, including live broadcasts, rotational broadcasts, and on-demand programming.

The SUC has developed a National Education Platform for the Elderly. Over the past year, it has undergone 200 optimizations and iterations, introduced an "accessible mode," enhanced learning service functions, and ensured synchronization of information and learning records across various devices, including computers and mobile devices. It offers online learning support services, including interest-based learning, skill enhancement, online course reviews, and "follow-up" assignments.

The National Education Platform for the Elderly helps senior students swiftly locate courses of interest by using over 40 course tags. It has developed a variety of branded courses, including "Cloud Classroom," "Art Master Lectures," and "Happy Learning Livestreaming." According to recent statistics, the platform boasts more than 2.35 million registered users and has offered learning support to 57.08 million individuals.

Extending the educational service system to urban and rural communities

In the classrooms of the SUC's Weigongcun Campus in Beijing, there are elderly couples attending classes together. There are also daughters in their 60s attending classes with their mothers in their 80s. They have shared learning contents as well as courses to their own interest.

With the rapid increase in the elderly population in China, more and more elderly people need opportunities for spiritual and cultural life as well as continuing education. "The new generation of elderly people has more needs for their own development," said Zhang Xiangyu. "The improved condition of the elderly holds endless possibilities for their lives, benefiting not only their families but also society as a whole".

In January 2024, the General Office of the State Council released the Opinions on Developing the Silver Economy and Enhancing the Well-being of the Elderly. This document highlighted the establishment of national seniors' universities as a crucial strategy to enrich the cultural and sports services available to older adults. The growth and advancement of education for the elderly is a significant indicator of the silver economy's development.

"The national educational service network, established by the SUC, in tandem with the National Education Platform for the Elderly, offers a space for learning, communication, and exhibition to the elderly nationwide. This initiative supports their ongoing engagement in productive activities and their contribution to social value creation. Additionally, it encourages the diversified growth of silver industries, including elderly healthcare, tourism, and culture. This, in turn, stimulates the development of the silver economy and improves the well-being of the elderly," stated Fan Xianrui, vice president of the OUC (SUC).

The subsequent phase for the SUC involves the creation of a credit bank for the university to facilitate the accumulation and conversion of learning achievements. This initiative aims to enhance interoperability across various elderly education platforms of different levels and types. Additionally, it will support the formulation of policies and optimization of services for elderly education through comprehensive big data analysis. Simultaneously, the SUC will work on expanding the educational service system to both urban and rural communities, expedite the enhancement of the educational network at and below the county level, and bridge the "last mile" gap in elderly education.(Original text from Minsheng Weekly)


Reprinted by OUC News Network from People’s Daily All-Media Platform