Whether it’s through formal education or informal programmes learning can prolong active life and promote a confidence and belief in your abilities to handle the demands of later life. Life is a series of challenges and from these challenges we learn. It’s never too late to learn and age should be a barrier to learning. When we improve our talents, develop our skills and learn to communicate, we have more to contribute to life. Through education and by opening up our minds to new ideas we have the opportunity to continue growing within ourselves despite the restrictions that life imposes on us. With the advance in technology this has never been truer. Even for frail people, physically or mentally disabled confined to the house or chair, it is still possible to access information and improve knowledge and understanding. Today information can be accessed not only through books, but also through computers, videos and TV. For many older adults didn’t have the opportunity of learning the basic 3 R’s in their youth due to social and economic limitations this could be the time of life to indulge in re-education. Today there is so much scope and so many facilities for learning - whatever one’s interests or capabilities may be. This could be the perfect moment, the one you have been waiting for – so why not take the plunge and try learning something new.
An obvious way to find out about adult education is to contact your Local Education Authority and look at the list of classes they run in your area and they cater for every need. Their number will be in your local phone book. Or you could contact them through the Learning Direct helpline, which is run by the Department for Education and Employment. Take the opportunity to check out the range of courses and if you want to keep up with the crowd, and the rapid advances in technology, take note of the computing courses in particular. Whether you like them or not computers are here to stay so I advise you to get conversant with them. From my own observations there is nothing to guarantee alienation by the young from the old faster - than disinterest or incompetence when it comes to using a computer.
When it comes to computing the generation gap has never been so obvious and computing skills are a must if we are to keep in step with progress. If you can tackle the technology and learn to email them your credibility with young people, particularly your grandchildren will soar sky high. Most silver surfers admit to being scared of computers and all the modern technology that goes with them at the beginning, but once they learn to overcome their nervousness and become conversant with the technology, a whole New World opens up. The over 50’s have become the fastest growing group using the Internet. There are web services, home pages cropping up daily and hundreds of web sites, with news, information, advice on savings and health and much, much more aimed specifically at the 50+ age group. People with new found time on their hands, can research, shop or contact people anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night. It’s so easy for families once they learn how to get online, to keep in touch wherever they are in the world, and with scanning facilities and camera and videos that are compatible with the computer there’s no excuse for losing touch with loved ones.
Increasingly mature people, me included, use the Internet for booking holidays and travel. It’s so convenient to go on the net at any time of the day or night, to work out routes from timetables, and book and pay for, planes, buses or trains at reduced online prices. Internet chat rooms are easy to use and can provide interest and excitement for everyone. The technology is easy once you get the hang of it and enables you to talk to anyone, anywhere and at any time disregarding time zones. A whole new world opens up when you talk to strangers and share interests and experiences. Who knows - it is the start of a wonderful friendship.
While many silver surfers fear the cost of the net will increase their telephone bill, the fact is that in the end it’s a lot cheaper than conventional telephone calls often made at expensive times in order to accommodate the restrictions of world wide time zones. Buying books, videos and CD’s online is inexpensive and efficient. Titles that proves difficult to source and take forever to order in high street shops, can be searched for, located, ordered and paid for immediately online. Most arrive within a day or so. The Internet can make a hug difference to the quality of life for people who live alone. It becomes like a companion, it can enhance their lives and is a gateway to another, exciting and easily accessed world. More than four million people in the UK over 50 years of age now own a computer and use it to regularly surf the net and keep in touch with family and friends.
The “grey market” is one of the most lucrative branches of the travel industry with the 50+ travellers spreading their wings to discover the world. Many have families, who have already grown and flown the nest. With time, money, health and opportunity and wanderlust mature folk are off to increasingly far flung venues to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned labours. Many have already “done” Europe – Spain, Portugal and the Canaries on package holidays with the children and now set their sights further afield whilst they have the opportunity and health. America, Australia, Canada, Thailand and China are favourite venues for the more adventurous many of whom take the opportunity to visit and holiday with friends and relations with whom they regally keep in touch by email.
If you are not into computers and modern technology is not for you, mental activity can positively influence brain activity and sharpen skills. Make the crossword, or a challenging book, or perhaps a game of chess or bridge your daily brain exercise. Why not write your autobiography – even if it is never published your family will have a rich insight into both your own and their family background and local history. Maybe enrolling for an adult education course could finally give you the chance to pursue an elusive hobby that you pushed to one side during your hectic working years, or it might even be your entry into the world of technology that you have resisted until now! Recently I made time to return to painting in oils, and I feel intense excitement and satisfaction as I create colourful pictures and patterns. Able to at last fulfil my frustrated creative urge makes up for all those frenetic, but fallow years when I didn’t have time to paint. It feels great to at last have found time to explore my new horizons. My painting class is not only an artistic opportunity but a social one too; it affords me the time to enjoy the camaraderie of my fellow artistes. It’s an experience I can thoroughly recommend.
NIACE the National Organisation for Adult Learning represents the interests of everyone concerned with adult learning. It aims to develop better learning opportunities for older adults aged 50+ to redress their current low levels of participation in education and training. NIACE organises a programme and produces a newsletter called Older and Bolder, which concentrates, on promoting education in later life. They aim to influence Government and policy in all areas and want to ensure that facilities are available for the 50+ group throughout the country. Older members of the community are encouraged to participate in order to determine and express their own learning needs, which can vary greatly. NIACE even make awards to institutes for good practise and presents awards to individuals who have achieved, in the form of Senior Learner of the Year. NIACE are conscious of the requirement for older adults and of their need to keep up with the technical world of computers if they are not to be disadvantaged.
The Open University has a vast and varied range of courses. It is one of the top universities in the UK for the quality of its teaching. Its unique studying methods mean that you study in your own time with the support of a personal tutor, regular assessments and comments on your progress and top quality teaching materials. Many students take a single certificate course; others work for an OU diploma or degree then go on to postgraduate study. The flexibility of the OU study lets you choose where and when you study, even if you change jobs, house or even country. The courses are demanding and you will need strong personal motivation, but you will be given help every step of the way. You can choose for yourself how much time you give in order to succeed in your chosen studies. Open University study is more flexible than conventional study, and there is no limit on how long it takes for you to successfully complete your studies. Fees vary are given in course descriptions. If a course has compulsory residential school the full cost of tuition, board and accommodation at the school is included in the fee.
The University Of The Third Age (U3A) is not a University but for a small fee will put you in touch with their network of learning throughout the UK
Worker’s Educational Association (WEA) is a national charity and the largest voluntary provider of adult education in the UK. It is organised into 13 districts in the UK which with its Scottish Association organises courses for adults in 650 WEA branches in towns and villages nation-wide. Some areas target adults by providing discussion groups and classes during the daytime when elderly people feel happier to venture out The WEA exists primarily to provide adults with access to experience of organised learning which develops intellectual understanding, confidence and social and collective responsibility. Its approach to learning opportunities for adults includes making use of life experience and can involve students planning their own learning. It also targets students who did not benefit from the educational system when they were younger and collaborates with other organisations to facilitate high quality learning opportunities. It has a full fee structure and concessionary fees for retired people. Courses held in WEA Distinct branches are many and varied and can help develop new skill, extend learning or explore a new interest. The WEA is sensitive to the educational requirements of local people, due to the fact that its many branches are controlled by a committee of volunteers from its local student members. Many areas organise classes in sheltered accommodation which are proving a success with the residents – some as old as 103.
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