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Education for older people

Updated Wednesday 18th December 2013

Is there enough being invested in education for older people?

Please note: The views expressed in this debate are all genuine, but in order to encourage open debate they were captured off-camera. The video below features people sharing views randomly assigned to them, which may not reflect their personal beliefs, nor those of The Open University as a whole.

Video

Transcript

CAROLINE

Okay, Jonathan, I'd like to think that as I get older I can carry on learning.  I mean there's an awful lot of things out there still to learn.

JONATHAN

Yes, yes.

CAROLINE

And I'm worried that we aren't investing enough in education for older people at the moment in this country.

JONATHAN

Well I mean that's clearly the case, we aren't investing enough.  I mean I think one of the problems about sort of thinking about education and learning in later life is that sometimes people assume that ageing is just about sort of all sorts of decline, it's about physical decline, and it's about mental decline in how much you can remember.  And you often hear sort of older people sort of almost agreeing with that by sort of saying oh, you know, I've had a senior moment, I've forgotten something.  And I think that's something that really ought to be challenged because the research such as this suggests that that isn't a problem and it's just expectations that people, when people forget things if you're 15 or 25 and you forget something you don't sort of say oh I've had a 25-year-old moment.  Whereas if you're older than that people start thinking I've forgot that because I'm getting older.  There's no real very good evidence about that.

But then people are sort of saying well I've got to use my brain otherwise it starts going into this inevitable decline.  And I think that's a really bad way to look at it because it's a sort of, you know, if you don't do it, then you sort of get more and more impaired in what you can do and what you can think about and what you can remember.  And I think that's, again, something that should be sort of quite strongly resisted and challenged because I think the point about learning is not that it stops you deteriorating in another way, but it actually means you can go on engaging with the world.  And it means you'd learn the sort of things that you need to learn as you go through your life and that might be on a sort of formal course at a college or university.  I think it's much more likely to be learning about the things that are necessary at each point in life, so, you know.

REBECCA

So learning to Skype so you can -

JONATHAN

Learning to Skype so you can, that's right, yes, that's right, yes.

REBECCA

- stay in touch with your grandchildren in Australia.

JONATHAN

Yes, indeed.  Or sort of people are facing decisions around going into residential care or if they have health issues, you know, there's a whole lot of learning that goes along with that, and people need to see themselves as being engaged and then it's linking with other people.  It's being involved in communities, with families and with friends.  So I think it's really important and I think it's a really sort of sad situation because all the money that the Government thinks should go into education is about sort of skills and being economically competitive.  So all the things that enabled people to go on living fulfilling lives have been sort of seen as secondary and don't get any support in it any more, hardly at all.

CAROLINE

But some people when they get older they do seem to feel that they want to not get bothered with things any more, you know, not really gets stuck in; they want to back off a bit.  So do you think we should encourage people to not be like that, or do you think that's…?

JONATHAN

Well that's almost learning to be in a different way inate.  I mean there was some sort of, you know, I was sort of thinking of Indian traditions where sort of people abandon the material world if you like and sort of find themselves spiritually, and that seems perfectly in order to me.  If that's where people, that's a learning people want to do, that seems just as important as learning to Skype your grandchildren.  

REBECCA

Learning to Skype your grandchildren, yes, yes.

JONATHAN

Yes, yes.

CAROLINE

Well as long as it's a choice and not giving in.

JONATHAN

Yes, yes.

CAROLINE

Okay.

JONATHAN

Because I think it's right, I think, you know, basically we're learning something every day from the cradle to the grave.  Some people have even suggested that we learn in the womb as well, so.  And I think learning is just being part of being a human being.

CAROLINE

But the idea that older people were wise; is it that that's an idea that's kind of shifted so that we now tend to think that old people are stupid?  Or was there always an extra opinion -

JONATHAN

Yes I think that's really interesting question.

CAROLINE

- about, you know?

JONATHAN

Yes.

REBECCA

And did it depend who you, I mean I bet if you were a man you were more likely to be seen as wise.

JONATHAN

To be seen as wise, yes.  I suppose there were wise women weren't there in some societies?

REBECCA

That's true there were wise women, yes.

JONATHAN

And I suppose in societies where only a few people lived to what we'd see as a good old age that they're more likely to be, in the sense that they had good health, perhaps they had a social status which meant they were less at risk of all sorts of events, but very few would get to that point.  So it's perhaps easier to see a few isolated individuals as being wise.

REBECCA

So they're kind of special.

JONATHAN

They're special but whereas when more and more people are living longer, it's perhaps harder to see more people as being wise.  And I think then there's issues about how the generations communicate, because if people aren't talking across generations and appreciating what people have got to say at different stages in life, then you're never going to find out whether they're wise or not.  And I think that's something that perhaps doesn't happen with sort of families being dispersed and, you know, with the rates of divorce and that sort of thing that it's often people don't know their grandparents or don't know older people.

REBECCA

Or like fewer people being in intergenerational organisations.

JONATHAN

Intergenerational organisations, yes, yes that's right.

REBECCA

So fewer people in churches or synagogues or whatever, and fewer people in political parties even which are multigenerational.

JONATHAN

I mean there was a fascinating thing on the radio only last week where the Macmillan were getting primary school children to talk to people in a hospice, and some of the things they were saying, they were seeing them as individuals not as old people, and I think that's, if you see somebody as an old person, because they have an old person's body or whatever, then you don't see them as an individual.  And I think that sort of, that can be broken down by that sort of project.

What do you think?

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