Teach seniors right to reap ‘longevity dividend’ from Singapore’s ageing population: Panel
17 Aug 2023
The Straits Times
SINGAPORE – Targeted education for seniors could help Singapore reap a “longevity dividend” from an ageing population, said a panel of experts last Friday. They were speaking at the unveiling of a national standard for training senior learners, launched by government-linked active ageing agency Council for Third Age (C3A).
The Singapore Standard 693 Geragogy Guidelines on Training Senior Learners (SS 693) sets a benchmark for trainers and organisations serving senior learners. Geragogy refers to the management of teaching and learning for older adults.
The launch of SS 693 follows the 2021 release of teaching guidelines aimed at helping older learners pick up skills and knowledge effectively. The Geragogy Guidelines 2021 were developed by C3A and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) and are based on the theory that seniors learn differently from other age groups.
Lifelong learning has been shown to improve social, mental and physical engagement in seniors, and thus it is important to tailor learning experiences for older people as Singapore’s population ages. By 2026, 21 per cent of the population are expected to be aged 65 or older.
At last Friday’s event, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted that while learning programmes will need to be structured and paced differently to account for physical and cognitive challenges faced by seniors, trainers must make efforts to respect their learners’ capabilities and independence.
“Geragogy requires trainers to involve seniors in their learning process actively and have their sense of autonomy and independence reinforced constantly,” added Mr Ong.
This was reiterated in a discussion later in the day, featuring a panel of experts in active ageing and geragogy.
They included C3A chief executive officer Soh Swee Ping; Associate Professor Carol Ma from SUSS, who helped to develop the Geragogy Guidelines 2021; and Ms Carol Chan, executive director of En Community Services Society, which promotes active ageing through courses and projects for seniors. The panel was moderated by this writer and focused on combating ageism and working on gaining the best from seniors’ experience and talents – the “longevity dividend”.
Prof Ma said that the SS 693 guidelines point out it is important to understand what motivates seniors to take up certain courses and to structure the training appropriately to meet their needs.
She gave the example of a 74-year-old student in her gerontology course at SUSS, who completed all the course readings before classes began because he was interested in the topic. She added that such self-driven older students and volunteers are assets to classrooms and organisations.
She pairs such older students with younger ones, usually in their 30s, and both sides find that they learn from each other.
She and the two other panellists said that trainers should see themselves as “facilitators” and their senior students as equal partners in the learning process. “The elderly have a lot of life experience they can share. It’s an equal relationship, where you can learn from them. They have a lot of good tips to share.”
Intergenerational groups can capitalise on the “longevity dividend” of seniors’ life experiences and help combat notions of ageism, panellists said.
However, Ms Soh from C3A noted that intergenerational programmes must be structured to meet these objectives. “We don’t just put the young and old together and expect magic to happen.”
C3A has organised intergenerational programmes since 2011, including pairing seniors with school students who teach them computer skills.
Ms Soh said: “The learning was actually secondary; we aimed more for bonding.” The idea was to change perceptions that each age group had of each other, and a post-programme survey did indeed find that perceptions had improved.
Ms Soh added: “Empathy is easier to achieve when you pair up strangers. We tend to be more patient and polite with someone we don’t know, but when we talk to our loved ones, suddenly we become more impatient.”
Ms Chan of En Community Services Society said the geragogy guidelines have helped her organisation improve how it works with seniors who volunteer with it or attend courses. For example, more effort is put in to ensure that seniors have autonomy in deciding which groups they volunteer in.
Trainers who run programmes such as painting are also more aware of the class’ needs, from structuring in restroom breaks to noting that senior students need time to get up from their seats.
She added: “Trainers need to be very caring and understand the specialised needs of seniors when they conduct courses. The guidelines provide very important tips.”
The launch of SS 693 was welcomed by other players in the active ageing landscape, who said that the detailed guidelines would help them engage more effectively with seniors.
Mr Loy Teck Wee, general manager of Project Dignity, said that organising cooking classes for adult learners is a key source of revenue that fuels the social enterprise’s mission to train the disabled and disadvantaged to find employment. He said that the Singapore Standard will help Project Dignity improve its outreach to seniors, adding: “Geragogy is something very new and it’s very important to have these guidelines.”
Ms Karen Wee, executive director of Lions Befrienders, said the SS 693 will help the organisation’s work in eldercare and active ageing. Lions Befrienders runs active ageing centres, works with volunteers to befriend seniors and also offers assistance to vulnerable seniors.
Having a national standard is important for the active ageing landscape, said Ms Wee, since it takes into account the perspectives of various stakeholders. SS 693 will provide a reference as the organisation trains its volunteers, many of whom are over the age of 60. It will help in rolling out activities and programmes targeting seniors as well.
“When you have one set of guidelines, it becomes easier for our staff,” she added. “It gives them confidence in delivering their work.”
About the panellists
Ms Soh Swee Ping, chief executive officer, Council for Third Age
Ms Soh Swee Ping is chief executive officer of the government-linked active ageing agency, Council for Third Age (C3A). The agency was set up in 2007 and promotes active ageing through public education, outreach and partnership. It administers the National Silver Academy, which offers courses to senior learners, and is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing launched by the Ministerial Committee on Ageing
Ms Soh said in a media release on the launch of the guidelines: “Continued learning is widely believed to play an integral part in active ageing.
“The launch of the new Singapore Standard 693 Geragogy Guidelines on Training Senior Learners (SS 693) is timely, as it forms the backbone of the best practices aimed at fostering an inclusive and responsive learning environment for senior learners.”
Associate Professor Carol Ma, Singapore University of Social Sciences
Associate Professor Carol Ma is head of gerontology programmes and senior fellow (service learning and community engagement) at the Singapore University of Social Science’s Centre for Experiential Learning. She conducts research in gerontology, or the scientific study of old age, and promotes transdisciplinary education to address matters related to ageing.
She was involved in developing the Geragogy Guidelines 2021, launched that year by government-linked active ageing agency C3A and SUSS. The guidelines are based on the theory that older learners require different teaching methods and support to pick up skills and knowledge.
Prof Ma said in the media release: “SS 693 will put Singapore on the map as one of the first few ageing societies to have a formalised standard in the training of senior leaners. It will complement the 2023 Action Plan for Successful Ageing by serving as a national resource that trainers, individuals and organisations can tap.
“Ultimately, this creates an enhanced learning experience for seniors which will help them to stay physically, mentally and socially engaged, a plus for any super-aged society.”
Ms Carol Chan, executive director, En Community Services Society
The non-profit social services agency En Community Services Society engages seniors as well as young people and parents through community projects and education. It also offers care and counselling programmes for families in distress.
Apart from being the agency’s executive director, Ms Carol Chan is also involved in casework and programme development in the social and community care outreach team.
The agency offers various courses to senior learners such as Chinese calligraphy and therapeutic watercolour painting. These courses are under the National Silver Academy, which is administered by C3A.
Ms Chan said in the release: “At En Community Services Society, the geragogy guidelines serve as a reference for trainers to adapt their training to meet the needs of senior learners and are also incorporated into our internal training to improve organisational practices.
“With SS 693, the enhanced framework will allow us to continue to adapt to the changing needs of seniors and further improve our processes.”
The SS 693 costs $36.10, excluding GST, and can be purchased from the Singapore Standards eShop at www.singaporestandardseshop.sg.
Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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