The Benefits For The Elderly Education Essay

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Such demographic changes mean that the skills and knowledge of the older workers need to be developed and utilized. As supported by the data many older workers are at the height of their carriers and not at the end of it. It has been found that the elderly, who work, do it on a full time basis for a minimum of six months of the year and this comes from a necessity to earn an income (UNPFA, 2011). Therefore, a majority of the older workforce expects to continue working even after the estimated retirement period. This suggests that developing the skill levels of older workers will have benefits for the elderly, employers and society alike. Contrary to popular belief, although the elderly workforce experiences changes in reaction time and perceptual skills, other skill areas such as memory, problem solving, creativity, general intelligence, social skills, the ability to cope with stress can be maintained and even improved through training and education (Dworschak, Buck & Schletz, 2006). Skill mismatch is identified as one of the primary factors affecting the ability of older workers to perform effectively and productively, (Cedefop, 2010) and the cognitive decline in older workers is seen as a result of being out of practice and is quite reversible (Foster, 2008). Older adults tend to perform better on task requiring crystallized intelligence than younger adults. Crystallized intelligence includes the knowledge and skills accumulated throughout one's lifetime. Older people perform better on this through verbal abilities and judgment (Merriam, 2001). General consensus among researchers is that although the elderly may score lower on tasks related to fluid intelligence, these scores can be improved and their performance can reach parallel levels to that of younger adults once training interventions are provided for solving strategies (Baltes et. al., 1993; García-Berbén, 1995, Calero, and García-Berbén, 1997). The institutes that offer training to the elderly population is popularly referred to as University of the Third age or U3A and the education that they receive can be divided into two broad categories namely through self training and through tutor guided training (Calero and Garcia-Berben, 1997). It has been seen that the elderly group with high educational levels benefit greatly from both the self training paradigm and the tutor guided paradigm and the group with low educational level benefits greatly from tutor guided training paradigm. The reasoning behind this that higher the educational level, the more easily abilities will emerge after little practice (Baltes et. al., 1989). In the self training model the elderly are both teachers and students, they study topics of their choice, carry out research and theoretical work, organize various activities and fashion an effective and advantageous community network. The rationale here is that experts from every field eventually retire so there is no need to retain second age teachers to communicate information and knowledge to the elderly (Laslett, 1989). This approach has been very successful in the UK, Australia and New Zealand (Swindell and Thompson, 1995).

On the other hand the tutor guided paradigm often consists of inter generational classes where the younger adults and the elderly exchange thoughts, knowledge and discussions. This is usually a pre-designed study program and offers more formal courses. Even though the elderly may be required to read and write papers from time to time they are isolated from the whole learning process. This model is popular in many countries such as France, Austria, Belgium and Germany among others. Various adaptations of these models exist around the world such as Elderhostels that originated in mid 1970s in the United States and is the largest education and travel organization for aged people today (Moody, 2004). These include courses taught by many organization, universities and colleges across the globe and offer low-cost and temporary academic residential courses. Another version of courses offered for the elderly is the Institutes for Learning in Retirement (ILR) which has been in existence since 1962. These institutes collaborate with universities and offer college level courses on a tuition-waiver basis. (Hebestreit, 2006). With such an immense amount of effort being put into the education of the elderly worldwide and the absolute reality of the growing elderly population in India, the moment in time has arrived to introduce third age education in India. Through such an endeavor the benefits will not only be reaped by the elderly population but also by employers as well as society as a whole.

Benefits for the elderly

The elderly population which is a significant proportion of India's population has as much a right to learning and education as any other group of society. It is a far and wide accepted and recognized fact that individuals constantly need to update their knowledge and acquire new skills in order to continue in the current climate of competitive labor markets and continually changing technological advances in almost every field. Nevertheless, this is not the only reason for elderly individuals to engage themselves in education. The vocabulary of lifelong learning and learning societies can be very confining for third age learners as they aim towards economic productivity and developing work related skills. Learning for third age learners has many extensive advantages such as improving the social well being and health of individuals. In fact this is one of the main objectives behind the Indian Society of U3A which was formed in March 2008 (Singh, 2011). It aims towards providing a holistic and meaningful ageing process through providing opportunities to the third age for sharing experiences and participating in discussions about the elderly and to construct programmes around their skills and interests. They also aim to collaborate with universities and colleges in the future to provide lifelong open learning. Research shows that when third agers do engage in such educational activities, they show high levels of improvement in self confidence, enjoyment of life, ability to cope and satisfaction in other areas of life (Dench and Reagan, 2000). In a research conducted by Dench and Regan (2000) forty two percent of the elderly participants stated that the found an improvement in their ability of 'standing up and being heard and willingness to take on responsibility'. About eighty percent of the participants who were working participated in work related learning and it was found that IT related learning was most common followed by work related learning. Some of the IT learning was due to work requirements but a number of people engaged in it out of personal interest. The reasons that the older students above the age of 60 usually report for engaging in learning are to keep the mind active, for personal development and to develop an interest in an area (Clennell, 1990). This body of students has been seen to be highly motivated, hardworking, organized and capable of meeting the demands of the courses they choose and there is no difference between the overall pass rates of older and younger student in open universities (Clennell, 1990; 1984). Non-traditional students tend to do better due to their maturity, motivation, hard work, life experience and also because they are there with specific goals in mind and reluctant to waste time as a precious resource. Third age students are seen to be motivated by perceived cognitive gaps, intellectual curiosity, social relationship and self actualization (Bynum and Seaman, 1993). Older learners show a desire for training programs when they view work as an important aspect of their lives, out of financial necessity and when they work fulltime (Armstrong-Stassen and Schlosser, 2008). They also prefer to use their current skills and knowledge as a basis for further learning (Ferrier, 2008) In inter-generational groupings, older students get to interact with younger students and display leadership roles exposing the younger students to more mature levels, through their social and personal experiences (Whisnant et. al., 1993). There are some typical conjectures involving elderly learners such as they require special support and teaching methods. However, evidence points to the contrary and suggests that elderly students appear to be highly motivated and organized and their performance is as good as the students of any other age. It is also found that though they have apprehensions about their memory, only a small number of students actually report difficulties with memory. Thus, older students' needs are reasonably similar to those of younger students and they do not need any special provision provided for them and are committed to their education (Simpson, 2000; Clennell, 1984; Sivaswaroop; 2001). Investigations of third age education in different countries show that collectivist countries such as India, Japan and Malaysia prefer learning systems that involve awareness programmes, social, communicative and communal learning as well as that which contributes to other's well being (Sivaswaroop, 2001; Hori and Cusack, 2006; Merriem and Muhamad, 2000). In work settings, the motivations to learn stem from a sense of self-fulfillment and desire to be physically and mentally active, to learn and try new things (Towers Perrin, 2007; Pincas, 2007). They prefer to engage in programmes that have learning that is relative to the outcome (Ferrier et. al., 2008) and they want to be able to apply their newly learned skills and knowledge to their work setting, suggesting a desire for an instant result of 'return on investment' (Newton, Hurstfield, Miller and Bates 2005). Keeping these features in mind educational programs designed around enhancing skills and knowledge and satisfying intellectual curiosity, which are unrestrained and collective, practical and functional in nature and aimed at self actualization of the individuals is crucial.

Benefits for employers

The intricate aspects of ageing of the population along with the competitive nature of the market pose some serious perils to the economic structures of India. Increasing the employability and productivity of the older workforce through training and education can therefore aid in improving its economic growth. Following this many organizations such as IBM are bringing back retirees and utilizing them instead of younger temporary employees for specific projects (Morton, Foster and Sedlar, 2005). They provide a large amount of skills and experiences that can be tapped into and transferred to younger employees through a refined database (Winkler, 2006). There are however several barriers to such an approach, the chief among which are negative opinions about the skills and abilities of the older workforce. There exist many negative stereotypes against older workers such they are not interested in learning, they have difficulty learning new information, they cannot learn, investing in training older workers provides a poor return as they suffer from declining cognitive and intellectual capacities, they are high in absenteeism due their health problems, they are not suited for the speedy and technologically advanced atmosphere of organizations, they are deficient in the flexibility and adaptability required for current training programmes among many other (Foster, 2008; Gray and McGregor, 2003). The most significant affects that negative stereotypes of aging have are on the public perception on the mental abilities of the old (Lamdin and Fugate, 1997). The influence of such negative beliefs can in turn lead to training programs not being made available to older workers or a lack of encouragement for older workers to participate in these programs (Maurer and Rafuse, 2001). However, such assumptions are quickly changing and it has been seen that employers rate older workers on suitability for training, hiring and promotion the same as younger workers (Weiss and Maurer, 2004). This study has been carried out in the US and the changes may be due growing population of older workers in relation to other groups in the workplace and changes in age discrimination. Moreover, by increasing the qualification level and innovation ability of workers organizations can also increase motivation and commitment and reduce absenteeism (Naegele, 2007; Newton et. al., 2005). Younger workers are also presumed to be more productive than older workers (Posthuma and Campion, 2009) and that they have less energy, (Parson and Mayne, 2001), less competence (Kite, Stockdale, Whitley and Johnson, 2005) and that they have lower mental abilities (Raza and Carpenter, 1987) and experience more stress. On the contrary research suggests that while they show a decline in reaction time and perceptual skills, other factors affecting performance such as creativity, memory, problem solving abilities, general intelligence, social skills and the ability to cope with stress can be maintained and even improved overtime (Dworschak, Buck and Scheltz, 2006). Older learners tend to perform better on tasks of crystallized intelligence that involve knowledge and skills that have been accumulated overtime (Merriam, 2001). In a research undertaken in 2008 by Towers Perrin it was found that most of the older workers are interested in learning hard skills as well as soft skills and more importantly the same skill sets that employers state are important to them which include management skills training (58%), communication skills training (53%), professional skills training (72%) and computer and technological skills training (79%). They also rate themselves higher on the ability and willingness to be trained as compared to their employers (McGregor and Gray, 2002). Even though many human resource executive agree value the strengths and expertise of older workers they are concerned with the costs, health issues and ability of older workers to change and adapt (Towers Perrin, 2007). So why should we educate and train older workers? As mentioned before the elderly population has escalated in numbers from 20 million to 30 million with two decades. Twenty three percent of this population was identified as involved in workforce participation in 2004-2005 and these numbers are only expected to grow rapidly in the coming future. These changes in demographics that are hastily taking course reflect that older talent needs to be maximized and usefulness of providing education and training to this demographic is fast becoming significant to employers. It is clear that attaining high educational standards directly results in employees staying in the labor market for longer (Ferrier, Burke and Selby Smith, 2008). Therefore providing training to older employees will ensure that they continue their employment for longer (Fouarge and Schils, 2009). An illustration for the requirement for training programs for older workers would be out of date skills that are considered archaic in the current environment of technological competitiveness. Here the relevance for training justified as older workers are more likely to suffer from outdated skills which can affect their productivity (Cedefop, 2010). Older workers suit the requirements of organization regarding reliability, maturity and willingness to learn a job (Selby Smith, Smith and Smith, 2007). They also bring mentoring abilities, experience and knowledge with them to the organizations (Lakin, Mullane and Robinson, 2007). Besides, with Indian organizations spending a large amount of money on advertising, screening and interviewing, higher and training new employees only to have an all time high attrition rate, retraining older workers in the relevant areas can perhaps be a good practice. The practice of upskilling and retaining existing workers increases productivity and reduces recruitment (Hale 1990). Peterson and Spiker (2005) argue that human capital continues to expand with experience and time and it is thus logical that workers with greater human capital (i.e. older workers) contribute additional value to the organizations.

Many employers are concerned that training older workers will not bring about much return on investment but as identified by Znidarsic (2012) this notion must be shed since most training programs now are outdated after three to five years and thus it is logical to presume that offering such programs to older employees will be beneficial since older employees now continue to work with the same organization for longer periods of time. Such opinions can be reflected in the training strategies implemented in organizations such as Aurora Energy in Australia and United Technologies Corporation in United States who experienced great improvement in retention rates. Aurora Energy has reached an attrition of just one percent through age friendly training programmes and UTC offers three hours in a week if they are enrolled in a course in an accredited college (Foster, 2008; Moseley and Dessinger, 2008). Many companies such as Precision Parts in Australia actively prefer to hire older workers as they are less inclined to have 'itchy feet' than younger workers, are more open to learning and have a greater acceptance of change than younger workers (Selby Smith, Smith and Smith, 2007). Two thirds of the staff of Lake Barrine Cruises and Teahouse includes older workers and the owners of the company believe that they provide for a more stable workforce and relate well to customers. Research shows that an age diverse workforce can be helpful in the face of challenges (Walker, 1998). In order to retain older employees organizations need to not only provide employees such jobs that present opportunities for learning and development and persuade their orientation towards development (Armstrong-Stassen and Schlosser, 2008) and also need to provide various incentives such as flexible HR policies, attitude change and knowledge transfer programs to draw the interest of older workers (Peterson and Spiker, 2005). Therefore, evidence suggests that consideration towards training programs for mature age workers is not just desired but rapidly becoming more significant in the competitive markets that encourage high functioning with the least amount of cost.

Benefits for society

In the current atmosphere of scarcity and inadequate distribution of resources government and societies are not concerned simply with economic growth but also with social environments, inequalities among classes of societies as well as the welfare and health of children, the elderly and disadvantaged groups. Accordingly, education possibly plays a very significant role in successful ageing and enhances the quality of life of older people. Education is widely recognized as empowering various sections of society and this includes the ageing population. Education for the older population is the process of acquiring relevant knowledge, skills and values for emphasizing and defending one's rights. Therefore, it is by its very nature a positive intervention for enriching the lives of older adults. Education of the third age is a valid technique for older adults who have been marginalized in the economic, cultural, political and social areas of life so that they can situate themselves and claim their position as fully participating members of society. As mentioned before the demographic changes are quickly appearing in our society and in order to actively manage these demographics there needs to be a suitable system in place to cultivate the competencies, strengths, abilities, skills and experiences of the older generations. They need to be nurtured and preserved in the interest of the individuals themselves, future cohorts and tackling demographic challenges. It is widely recognized that education not only enhances economic growth by gathering human capital but also increases levels of social capital (Campbell, 2006). One of the major motivations behind the elderly utilizing educational opportunities later in life is to build social relationships and it has been pointed out that well being and the development of social networks has a positive relationship (Swindell, 1999). Such relationships result in knowledge and trust which further lead to cooperation and reciprocity (Kilpatrick, Field and Falk, 2003). Demonstrations of education having many benefits for the elderly section of society are rapidly accumulating. The reality that learning is beneficial to the elderly is verified by the NIACE survey, 'Impact of learning on health', where a third of the respondents reported positive outcomes such as improvement in mental and physical health and self esteem, higher levels of happiness and confidence (Aldridge and Lavender, 2000). According to NIACE learning programmes have helped the elderly in terms of health, self confidence and enjoyment of life and the benefits of education therefore, extend above and beyond employability. This is confirmed as a strong self-worth and psychological adaptability is coupled with successful aging (Andrews, Clark and Luszcz, 2002). Besides, social capital has also been quite effective in demonstrating sustainability within communities, for instance in the recent research conducted by World Bank for the Rajasthan Watershed Development Program where the villagers worked by means of cooperation to achieve mutual, community wide benefits (Krishna and Uphoff, 1999). Social capital has been observed as having a major role in reducing poverty and increasing economic growth in developing countries (Krishna and Uphoff, 1999; Narayan and Pritchett, 1999). According to the World Bank (2001) social capital is 'not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society, it is the glue that holds them together'. Older people contribute to societies by forming informal social networks thus providing ties within communities. Hence, it is extremely important to devise deliberate and systematic programs for the education and training of the third age. The knowledge and skills shared with and by the ageing society will perhaps lead to a cultural and societal coherence which in turn can reshape our understanding of the norms and values that stand as the basic foundations of this society.

Considerations for developing an educational and training program

There are several factors that should be reflected upon before embarking upon any advancement towards developing programs for third age learners. Researchers and scholars should be vigilant while referencing existing research on the ageing population as age is too straightforward a construct to fully portray in a consequential way the needs and desires of such a population. The ageing population is often portrayed as a homogenous group with regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, ablebodiedness, etc. Glenddening and Battersby (1990) in their critical assessment of the adult educational programs have cautioned against the flawed programs known as 'conventional wisdom' that include the propensity to view the older population as a homogenous group and presume that any form of education emancipates, empowers and is beneficial for older people. Battersby has criticized such programs for being represented to a large extent by financially secure persons who have already benefited in some way from the educational system, for overlook the fact older adult education is driven largely by middle class notions of education and that older adults are a disadvantaged group that are marginalized from various aspects of society and accuse these programs of considering the aims and purposes of older adult education in a shallow manner. It is imperative to consider the intersectionality between the various forms of repressions before establishing educational programs. Battersby (1990) has proposed the concept of Gerogogy that is a 'liberating and transforming notion which endorses collectivity and dialogue central to learning and teaching' (Battersby, 1987). This model is in sync with the preferences of the older adults who find learning in an environment that encourages awareness, social, communicative and communal learning as well as that which contributes to other's well being favorable (Sivaswaroop, 2001; Hori and Cusack, 2006; Merriem and Muhamad, 2000). India is a country with a relatively low literacy rate and educational qualification is a chief factor affecting employability and education. Previous educational qualification level is a high predictor of future participation in educational programs. Many older workers do not have high educational qualifications and therefore do not participate in further educational programs as they are insecure about joining such programs at a later age. They need to be made aware of the potential of adult education in transforming their economic and social environments. Since education and self concept are closely linked, older adults who did poorly in previously in an educational setting might view similar settings in the future as competitive and ones in which they have already failed and a cycle of failure is thus established as (Burns, 2002). It is the function of the teacher then to eliminate such perception and to enable the learner to regain confidence through a sense of achievement (Maclachalan, 2004). Maclachalan also suggests that if the learning programs for the individuals with low educational levels are provided in 'friendship groups' they are more likely to participate. Support needs to be provided to those with lower level of education and they need to be encouraged to have an open position regarding education and its benefits of sustainable well being and social capital. Age stereotype is the chief barrier against third age students in undertaking training and educational programs in the workplace and in society and the cycle of such stereotypes is reinforced if educational and training programs are not made available or if they are not encouraged and supported to participate in them. Such assumptions and discriminations need to be addressed within the organization and society at large and it needs to be ensured that the ageing population receives similar opportunities and access to these programs as younger employees. Organizing large scale activities to address these issues can be a powerful tool in bringing about changes. As such courses and activities should be devised that challenges such stereotypes and represent ageing as an asset and not a liability.

Thus, caution against the erroneous confidence in the assumption that any education is good education or is liberating is advised and a critical reflection of the programs that aims to address the issues put forth is advocated.


Third age education has surfaced as an attempt to address the poverty, oppression and lack of knowledge and to enhance the quality of life of the third age. These educational programs (in agreement with Freire, 1985) need to be transformative, liberating and emancipator rather than aimed at domesticating the role of older people. A sentiment of anti-ageist supremacy needs to be reflected in these programs, where proactive movements are aimed at guiding individuals towards a communicative dialogue with each other, employers, organizations and society that can further generate various discourses around social, political and cultural equality. Third age education programs and training should be able to facilitate individuals in situating themselves in the centre of development that aspires to minimize the distance between the educated and the disadvantaged.