Millions more seniors studying at colleges for older students

Updated 2017-05-24 09:31:36 Global Times

Yang has just finished her watercolor painting of five apples on a table under the instruction of her teacher in an activity venue in Chaoyang district, Beijing, that is tailored for the elderly. Together with her eight senior citizen classmates at the weekly painting class, Yang is one of the school's regulars.

Relieved from babysitting duty at home, the 75-year-old has attended three courses since retiring from her job at a Beijing college at the age of 50. Before this, she learned about traditional Chinese painting for 12 years and ballroom dancing for 10.

"It's never too late to learn," she said, proudly showing some of her finished artworks that she saved on her iPad to the Global Times reporter. "I have won awards for my paintings," Yang said, beaming.

Wandering from street to street with their pet dogs, playing mahjong, chatting with neighbors and babysitting their grandchildren are the stereotypical pastimes of Chinese seniors. However a growing number of seniors are choosing to enroll in college courses, with the overall number of elderly students reaching 7 million by the end of 2014, up from 3.3 million in 2010.

Higher demand

Those colleges are becoming popular since the newly retired, who were born after the 1940s, are "better educated than past generations and have higher demands when it comes to their personal lives," Peng Xizhe, dean of the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Shanghai's Fudan University, told the Global Times.

A famous study by Abraham Maslow, a US psychologist, argues that people seek out things like self-realization when their basic needs, such as food and shelter, are satisfied.

Peng said that China has passed from a period of scarcity and a growing number of people will pursue self-realization as their goal in life. "China is expected to reach the peak of its aging population in 2050, and education for the elderly will also witness its height."

China is now home to 220 million people over the age of 60, accounting for 16 percent of the total population, and this number is expected to reach 240 million in 2020.

First established in the 1980s, the number of universities for senior citizens in China reached 60,000 in 2014, China Association of Universities for the Aged data shows.

However, supply still cannot meet demand, leaving many elderly people waiting for a place.

Since it will start recruiting students for the new semester on June 1, a college in Beijing's Haidian district has been bombarded with calls from the elderly inquiring about classes.

An employee of the college told the Global Times that usually classes fill up a week after enrolment begins, while some classes are full within minutes. Calligraphy classes are the most popular.

Some seniors find that they can't get a place in a class after waiting for two years, an employee from another college in Dongcheng district, Beijing told the Global Times. "We plan to increase the size of our classrooms this semester," she said.

Every county or district is required to set up at least one college for senior citizens by 2020, the Ministry of Education announced in 2016. According to a plan laid out by the State Council, China is expected to see 20 percent of its elderly involved in educational activities by 2020.

Lifelong learning

"Reeducation is part of their lifelong learning system, from primary schools, middle schools to colleges and reentering college after retirement," said Peng.

A 63-year-old man living in Beijing's Wangjing area, who studies painting and other classes at a local college, told the Global Times that he enjoys learning new stuff as he was too busy to have hobbies when he was part of the workforce.

Classes available to seniors range from painting, calligraphy and photography to yoga, English and IT.

"These classes all aim to make their lives 'delightful,'" Peng explained.

The majority of elderly students regard the classes as a way to enrich their lives and stay in contact with the outside world, rather than training themselves to begin another career, Du Peng, director of the Institute of Gerontology of Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

"People are scared of being disconnected from the rest of their community after retiring from work," Du said.

He added that only a small portion of people, mainly technicians and engineers, choose reemployment in China. And not many vacancies are open to the elderly.

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