The proportion of older people in our society is rising as a result of increasing life expectancy. Education has a broad-spectrum effect on the quality of life in old age. This opens up new opportunities for adult education but also presents it with new challenges.
Austrian gerontology researcher Anton Amann believes that education has a broad-spectrum effect on the quality of life in old age. Learning and education are more than just entertainment or a pastime for elderly people – participation in adult education by older people is said to promote mental and physical well-being, social integration and social participation. According to Amann, it reinforces a positive image of old age, improves the way old people anticipate and deal with critical life events and also has a positive impact on civic involvement. Education expert Dagmar Heidecker states that learning is necessary to help you find your way in the world and shape it. Non-participation can quickly lead to social exclusion, for example if you are unable to use a mobile phone or the internet.
Demographic change is changing the face of adult education
Demographic change is a key challenge in the EU Member States. According to Statistics Austria (Statistik Austria), if the present trend continues, the population of Austria will pass the nine million mark for the first time in 2030 meaning that it will have grown at a much faster rate than previously assumed. Increasing life expectancy means that, by as soon as 2020, there will be more people over the age of 65 than there will be under 20.
The associated increase in ‘active’ senior citizens is also likely to have an impact on the content and scope of adult education provision for this target group, as well as the methods used. This is creating new opportunities but also new challenges.
The Lifelong Learning Strategy in Austria (LLL:2020 Strategie) sets out targeted measures for the post-retirement phase; these include increasing participation in adult education, information and advice, low-threshold local education provision, and intergenerational projects and courses in ICT in particular. The intergenerational learning approach, as is currently being implemented in multigenerational houses across the EU, can help build a bridge between the different generations.
Why is there a need for intergenerational learning?
Intergenerational learning reduces the isolation of young and old people, which did not exist to the same extent when extended families lived in the same household. As the different generations get to know each other, this helps to break down stereotypes and mutual prejudices. It means that new problem-solving models can be developed and adopted together, and promoted innovation. This all helps to maintain social capital in ageing societies.
Communication is essential to be able to learn from one another – this means getting to know, understand and mutually accept each other. Opportunities need to be created for different generations to meet and talk in formal and informal settings. Interaction between different generations should not be a source of conflict but rather an opportunity for greater cohesion and the promotion of mutual learning and solidarity. And organisations are already starting to take advantage of the added benefit of age diversity because they have recognised that mixed-age teams and other mutual learning models can lead to increased productivity. This requires increased awareness and improvement of age-appropriate working conditions but also the initiation of a broad range of low-threshold education provision and projects.
Points for Action in Graz
The Graz project ‘Points for Action’ is an example of this type of low-threshold approach. In this project the city of Graz, together with the Austrian service institution for young people Logo Jugendmanagement and the Caritas Jugendliche charitable organisation, is providing the stimulus for intergenerational interaction combined with recreational activities. The project enables youngsters to have contact with elderly people, allowing them to contribute their time and skills to society, gain positive benefits from this for their own lives, and receive credits for leisure activities in return. Young people have numerous and varied skills that they can contribute. In addition to the services to the community, the positive effects include giving meaning to their lives, reinforcing their own capabilities and giving them self-confidence. It is important here that the needs of old people are taken seriously and that their contact with talented young people is structured around these needs.
- Intergenerational learning. The multigenerational house model.
- Statistic Austria – population projections
- 13/2011 edition of the Meb periodical for adult education: Adult education as a factor in active ageing (Erwachsenenbildung als Faktor aktiven Alterns)
- Article on learning and education in old age
- Graz Points for Action project
- Critical gerontology textbook
- Intergenerational learning guide
Text/Author of original article in German: Christine Bärnthaler /CONEDU
Redaktion/Editing of original article in German: Karin Kulmer /CONEDU