In Tianjin’s Xiqing District, Sun Wenfeng, retired, enters the University for Older Adults to take a class in clay modeling. Over the past six years, she has created over 300 works, and taken great pleasure in doing so. Huang Yuling, who is in her sixties, is similar: in order to realise her childhood dream, she has enrolled in several such universities since retiring, studying vocal singing on Mondays, ballet on Tuesdays, recitation on Wednesdays, Peking Opera on Thursdays, and fashion on Fridays. To her, “Old age means not only grey hairs and wrinkles, but also a chance at an ideal life”.
Their stories illustrate how elderly people across the country are becoming involved in education. It is estimated that China will have 243 million senior citizens by 2020, and that the next 20 years will see the aging trend continue. This makes it urgent to develop education for older adults in every part of the nation.
A framework for such a system has been taking shape, and over eight million retirees are taking classes in over 60,000 educational institutions. Thousands have become involved in elder education through community schools, online classes, and other forms. In Shanghai alone, about 500,000 people 60 or older are studying in universities and schools for older adults.
However, at this point, demand exceeds supply. At a branch school of the Shanghai University for Older Adults, for example, enrolment has grown from over 1,000 to over 5,000, with many students registered for more than one course. This has forced the university to stipulate that each student can take no more than two courses, each lasting for a maximum of two years.
According to the “Plan for Education of Older Adults (2016-2020)”, education of the elderly in China still faces resource shortages, unbalanced urban-rural and regional development, incomplete guarantee mechanisms, lack of coordination among departments, and lack of broad involvement by citizens. The development of education for older adults urgently requires that these problems be dealt with.
Efforts are being made to deal with imbalances in resources and services.
In Beijing, venues such as school libraries are being made available to groups of seniors, and curricula tailored to older adults are being added to vocational colleges and schools. Fujian Province will continue to promote the integration of education for older adults with community education, with the aim of building 100 demonstration schools, activity centers and programmes for community education by 2020; and Shandong Province will support the education of older adults from all walks of life, and diversify its institutions and fund-raising channels.
The internet also provides opportunities. According to vice president Liu Chen of the Open University of China (OUC), the OUC has established online studies as part of the Open University for Older Adults (http://lndx.oucnet.cn/default.htm), the first web-based platform in China dedicated to serving the elderly and their caregivers. In addition, the university has produced video courses such as “Computer Science for Older Adults” and developed mobile apps, including “Ai Lao Bang” (Caregiving with Love) and “Xue Le Tang” (Happy Learning), to make learning convenient for seniors by moving course resources to mobile terminals.
“Education for older adults helps them learn new things, master new skills, become integrated with modern life, and enjoy their final years”, said President Zhang Xiaolin of the China Association of Universities for Older Adults.
By People’s Daily