To throw open the gates of our colleges and universities to the elderly would not only be in keeping with a progressive view of education, it would also be an egalitarian policy measure against ageism.
The common link between great authors, like Benjamin Franklin, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Peter Mark Roget, is that they have all produced some of their greatest works when they were above 60 years of age. At the age of 64, Laura Ingalls Wilder published her debut book and continued writing for the rest of her life. Benjamin Franklin was 70 when he signed the Declaration of Independence and continued to be an elder statesman of the new United States. Peter Mark Roget first published his classic Thesaurus when he was 73 and went on writing later editions until his death at the age of 90.
These people clearly exemplify that age is not a bar when it comes to learning and education. Staying physically and mentally active is the key to preserve your health for a longer period. Several researches have proven that lifestyle factors can also boost the cognitive faculties of your brain no matter how old you are. Mind-stimulating activities can help elderly people stay mentally sharp and reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Contrary to popular belief, knowledge and education are not bound by age. According to the “State of World Population 2019” report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), India’s population in 2019 stood at 1.36 billion, growing from 942.2 million in 1994. Around 12.5% of India’s population will be 60 years and older by 2030; by 2050 this will increase to 20%. With an increasing ageing population, we must also devise education policies for the elderly to help them age with optimism and opportunities.
A lack of opportunities and the existence of several barriers characterise the education scenario for the elderly in India. There’s a dearth of suitable educational institutions and programmes for the elderly. This, coupled with internal factors such as a lack of motivation and self-confidence, prevent the elderly from seeking new learning opportunities in the second innings of their life. There continues to be an astounding lack of educational opportunities for the elderly both in the offline and online formats. While most institutions have a certain age barrier for various courses, there is no dedicated university or centre of learning for the elderly. While we have many detailed health and retirement policies, there is hardly any educational policy for them.
In 2013, it was found that around 100 senior citizens had enrolled for various IGNOU courses in Ahmedabad, including management programmes. This shows that, given sufficient opportunities, a large number of old people can reap the benefits of education and live a socially productive life.
A second chance
There are elderly people who for some reason could not afford to go to college or university; there might be others who wish to add another degree to their profile just for the love of learning.
Education and learning for the elderly must be an integral part of the right to education. More such opportunities for education must be created for the elderly to allow them a second chance and give them a new purpose in life. Colleges and universities must open new courses for the elderly, both online and offline. The government must mandate central and state universities to relax the upper-age limits for degree and diploma courses and open their gates to people of all ages.
Lifelong learning should be a key element of active ageing policies. More than being allowed, it must be actively promoted. The active ageing framework, according to the WHO, acknowledges that lifelong learning, along with formal education and literacy, is an important factor that facilitates participation, health and security, as people grow older. A few places, such as the European Commission (Oxley 2009) and the Province of British Columbia, Canada (Government of British Columbia), have clearly written “lifelong” in their active ageing policies. India should also take a cue from these to ensure a robust policy for the elderly.
Senior citizens can actively contribute to society by refreshing their education and staying active. We also need to create avenues for skill training and creative arts for the elderly to help them acquire new hobbies. A post-retirement life may be the time to accomplish your unfulfilled dreams and desires. Learning new things, such as music, pottery or herbal medicine, can make your sunset years enriching.
Rights of the elderly
As the population of senior citizens grows, we need more organisations that can help and assist them on various fronts. Organisations like CHAI Kreative are committed to changing the people’s outlook towards the ageing community. They not only sensitise different sections of society towards the needs of the elderly, but also provide latter with social security and emotional support.
The author is director and creative strategist, Chai Kreative and Return of Million Smiles