Lifelong learning for older adults: between wellbeing & social change!

Hany Hachem, PhD candidate in Education, Successful Ageing Programme, Örebro University.

People generally are living longer, in western as well as in none-western nations. It is even projected that in future decades the proportions of older people will increase significantly to form bigger parts of the general populations. An increase in the demographics of older people is expected to induce more pressure on established welfare systems, as much as it could make it harder for developing nations to sustain the rights of its greying population. Uncritical models of ageing are dictating what they claim to be a healthy and productive, passe-partout model of ageing which is expected to work for older people around the globe. Lifelong learning is being promoted as a technique or a strategy to help older people lead a healthy and productive life. Learning for older people, just like the models of ageing that promote it, are far from critical. The main aim for this kind of learning is the wellbeing and happiness of older adults. While this might suit privileged segments of older adult populations, it means nothing to excluded and oppressed older people. If we want to put it clearly, what would an Opera lesson do to a sick older person who cannot afford healthcare? What do cultural trips mean to a 75 years old woman who needs to work still so she can afford food and accommodation?

I assume the image I drew above speaks for itself to the fact that Lifelong Learning for older people that is supposed to be a democratic institution of inclusion becomes the spiritual food of the privileged. Only those can actually live by models of ageing that shed their meaning at the doorsteps of the deprived. It is time that education for older people opens its doors to accommodate the needs of the wealthy as well as the poor. A communal approach to older adult learning can unify the interests of well-off and oppressed older adults by providing spaces for wellbeing, as well as, for fighting hegemonies, ageism and oppression.

Yes, it is time that education for older people awakens to the necessity of physical and nominal inclusion of all older people. It is time to focus on empowerment and social change as by-products of education in later life. To do that, a shift in research on older adult education is needed too. The outcome of this shift is to contribute to ongoing debates between those who think education should be only fun, and those who think education is a drug against oppression and social inequalities.

I, myself, am committed to the restatement of the principles of older adult education to give the freedom to older people to choose their own ageing model and lifestyle. Most importantly, that their choice of an ageing model is based on a critical awareness rather than survival and fitting in. The war is on, and we are ready!

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