Prf. Emer. Dr. Keith Percy, Lancaster University, United KingdomUFA, 18th September 2012Later-Life Learning and a new agenda on ageing - perspectivesfrom the UK and Europe th [Script as at 16 September. I shall certainly shorten and polish this script before I deliver it but I shall not add to it].Ladies and gentlemen. It is a great privilege to be here and I thankthe Organising Committee of the conference for inviting me. I amgoing to try to bring you some perspectives from the UnitedKingdom and Europe. This is the structure of my talk .I believe that it was more than 40 years ago that the UnitedKingdom and much of the rest of, at least, Western Europediscovered the Ageing Issue. Demographic projections began to berecognised that showed that the population of older people wouldincrease very significantly and that more people would live longer,some of them much longer. Changes in prosperity and politics, inthe social, technological and material environment, in health andnutrition, made these increases in population and life expectancyinevitable - although the demographic projections of the size of theincrease have been revised upwards regularly since then.The definition of ‘older people’ used to be normally those who were‘post work’, had retired from work, from paid employment, or hadpassed beyond the stages of child rearing and family care. 65 years,60 years were the ages normally identified as signifiers of thebeginning of older age. In the West, more recently, the definitionhas become more general as notions of retirement have becomemore flexible. In some occupations people retire more gradually –moving from full to part-time work or being bought back, postretirement, for specific tasks. In some discussions of later life inEurope now the age of 50 years is often mentioned as starting pointto be considered.By the 1970s the concept of the Third Age had been identified. Notonly would older people live longer after retirement in the futurebut there could be more to life for them than resting, being amusedand waiting for death. There could be a period of perhaps severaldecades, in which older people could be active, be in reasonable orgood health and live a life different from one spent in paid ordomestic work. Positive thinking about this phenomenon wasactually quite slow to develop – the power of social assumptionsand images of older people as declining, dependent and less capablewere pervasive and they perpetuated the notion that older age was
a time for taking it easy and withdrawal from active participation insociety. More recently, it has become common in the UnitedKingdom and Europe to talk about the ‘young’ and ‘old’ old - or theThird and Fourth Ages with the latter being the period of care,failing health and dependency.It was in 1972 that UNESCO [the United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization] published the Fauré report,entitled Learning to Be. It was written by an international committeeof seven experts, chaired by Edgar Fauré. Interestingly, one of theco-authors was Professor Arthur V Petrovsky, then professor ofpedagogy and psychology at the Higher Institute of the University ofMoscow. The Fauré report was influential. It established ideas aboutthe right to lifelong learning from cradle to grave, including,therefore, later life learning. It went beyond notions of learningassociated mainly with school and colleges or skills training foremployment. It emphasised the importance of developing learningopportunities for emancipation, humanity and democracy – forsocial justice, in fact.The Fauré report continued to be discussed in Europe throughoutthe 1970s and 1980s but it was perceived and interpreted by somenational governments, in effect, as rhetoric. More and more, theyprioritised the need for economic competitiveness in the face ofglobalisation. The United Nations, however, continued its advocacyof principles which implied the need for learning throughout life.The World Health Organisation began to advocate the necessity oflifelong learning to support its policies of health promotion,participation in society, and security in later life. These cametogether in Madrid International Plan of Action of 2002 which is stillsignificant today. Ten years on I think it is being reviewed at aMinisterial Conference in Vienna literally as we speak today. TheMadrid plan of action included 10 commitments to whichgovernments should commit and I show you an abbreviated versionof five of them which I have selected. In its implementation strategyfor the Madrid commitments the UN, in effect, introduced thenotion of active ageing and emphasised the need for opportunitiesfor older people forindividual development, self-fulfilment, well-being through lifelong learning and access to communityparticipation.The European Union followed a similar path. It labelled the year1996 as the European Year of Lifelong Learning andIntergenerational Solidarity but it is not clear that it had muchlasting effect. The European Commission Resolution of 2002 wasfollowed by a stream of communications on the importance of
lifelong learning that should be for personal, civic and socialpurposes as well as for employment. The European Commission’sCommunication on Adult Learning 2007 emphasised lifelonglearning for “citizenship and competence”. The Action Plan of 2008-10 emphasised social inclusion as well as economic objectives. TheEuropean Commission Lifelong learning Programme 2007-2013 witha budget of nearly 7 billion euros includes the Grundtvig Programmewhich is declared to include all types of adult learning and for thefirst time seeks to fund activities addressing the challenge of anageing European population. We are in the 2012 European Year forActive Ageing and Solidarity between Generations and I shall brieflyrefer to this at the end of my talk.These high-level statements certainly have some symbolic value, asstatements of values and directions, as indications of the received oraccepted opinion of the time. But they are not the same as action.They do not oblige governments and politicians to do anything.Economic crises and political choices do that. Some analysts arguethat, even if willing, governments are limited in what they canachieve for later-life learning because they do not understand itscomplexity and multi-dimensionality and the concepts are ill-defined. For example, the scope of the concept of learning isnormally not clear to politicians. What would they mean by later-lifelearning? Formal classroom teaching? Learning in organisations andsocieties? Informal, independent or self-directed learning? Or all ofthese? Some scholars say that even these descriptors of later-lifelearning miss the point and we should start with an analysis of thekey aspects of an older person’s life, and trace back from those, andconsider how an older person does in fact learn what it is necessaryto learn or s/he chooses to learn.That is an area too complex for me to explore further here now. ButI do want to show you this table from Schuetze 2007 which usefullyoutlines three models of lifelong learning which have developed ininternational discussion over the years – social justice; democraticand human capital models.I move on now and I want you to ask what have we learned in thepast 40 years in the United Kingdom, Europe and more globallyabout the education of older people, what twenty years ago wecalled educationally gerontology, and we now call later life learning?Let us start with what we called for a time, somewhat pretentiously,‘gerogogy’ but I prefer now to call the teaching and learning of olderpeople. What do scholars, practitioners and older peoplethemselves in the United Kingdom and Europe think about thistopic?
There are many assertions and assumptions apparent in the claimsmade about the learning and teaching methods appropriate forolder people. For example, it is said that older, compared toyounger, people need methods of teaching and learning that matchtheir age. Such a statement seems close to being self-evident, atautology. There will clearly be physical aspects of older age thataffect learning and should be borne in mind by a teacher. It is notnecessary to detail the obvious, but a range of physical factors willbe among them. Memory is obviously also relevant. There is a greatdeal of detailed research about the effects of ageing upon memoryand some of these effects may require adjustment in teaching andlearning methods. Almost as important are the beliefs, oftennegative, which older people have about their memories. Thus,believing, perhaps falsely, that s/he has a poor memory couldinhibit, or even prevent, an older person’s learning.It is often urged in the West that the teaching of older peopleshould use their ‘life-experience’. This is probably true but also inneed of definition and qualification. Using life-experience can be away of making learning immediately meaningful, of allowing olderpeople to find examples in their own experience which exemplifyor confirm what is being taught and can be compared with the lifeexperience of other members of a class. By definition olderpeople have a longer life experience upon which to draw but Ipropose that the claim that teaching should take account of lifeexperience must be true for all ages of adults. A thirty year oldalready has significant life experience which can be drawn intothe process of learning.Over the past 20 - 25 years in Europe and elsewhere, there hasbeen a significant body of academics and thinkers concernedwith learning in later life who, following Paolo Freire, think thatteachers of older people should be concerned with theirliberation. Essentially, Freire argued that we are all prisoners ofthe ideas and concepts which socialisation processes andschooling have made us absorb and so we accept a society whichis hierarchical and in which people and groups– many olderpeople among them - are disadvantaged, marginalised andoppressed (Freire, 1972). Freire’s thinking implies that teachingand learning should assist marginalised older people to realisethat they are oppressed in their minds as well as in their lives. Anolder person aware of his or her disadvantaged situation, it isargued, is more likely to seek to take action, to become involvedin civil society, to seek to change things.Some critics have rejected the application of Freire’s approach tothe teaching of older people on the grounds that the individualolder person should be left to decide whether she or he wants tobe ‘liberated’ in these ways. Further, at the classroom and subject
learning level, it is difficult to see how the Freirean approach canbe universally applied in practice.The final view about teaching older people that I shall touch uponhere is that older people should learn from each other and do notrequire didactic teaching, an expert lecturer standing in front ofthem. The British U3A, the University of the Third Age, has grownup since the 1980s with a different model of a university of thethird age from the rest of Europe. I know that you are developinguniversities of the third age here in the Russian Federation andthe British model is probably different from yours, too. The Britishuniversity of the third age ideology is, indeed, that older peoplehave passed beyond the age, and the stages in life, when theywant someone to transmit knowledge to them as passivelearners. The ideology maintains that a group of U3A members,experienced people and motivated learners, can function as alearning community and teach each other. A recent empiricalstudy into a British U3A group by a young scholar called Marsdenconfirmed that this ideology was still being voiced strongly.However, within a programme range of several dozen classes andinterest groups, in a particular U3A group Marsden identifiedfour different kinds of learning situation, four different kinds ofteaching and learning, in that U3A group, including formaldidactic teaching. The truth was that among the 800 or somembers in the group, a variety of teaching and learningmethods were both desired and made available by these olderpeople despite the official ideology.There are other views on the specific forms of teaching andlearning appropriate for older people but I unfortunately do nothave time now to deal with them.Which of them is true? Are they all true? I want to mention a smallresearch study which is among the most recent carried out by mycolleagues and I at Lancaster University in the north west ofEngland. An experimental project for older people was carried out inthe University for seven months admitting older people to someparts on the teaching provided for young undergraduates. Theproject was systematically evaluated, both quantitatively andqualitatively. 149 older people recruited to the scheme withdifferent levels of participation in different aspects of it. Themajority of participants were female, aged between 60-74 years(although the range was 46 to 89 years), and most of them werehealthy and well-educated.Coming to the evaluation, most of the participants found thescheme beneficial; they spoke to us in interviews about the benefitsof University learning and teaching for them. From the slide you willsee that most of the benefits described were benefits intrinsic to theeducational process. All of the methods of teaching which I have
already outlined in this talk, the ones which were claimed to beparticularly appropriate for older people, were mentioned –teaching matching the age of the older student; teaching using lifeexperience; teaching encouraging an older person to reviewcritically his or her social situation; and peer teaching being valuedhighly but, interestingly in this case, no more than teaching by anexpert. So the suggestion is, from this small study, that statements aboutteaching and learning methods appropriate to older people may allbe true and individual approaches should not be advocatedexclusively. Older people very enormously: they differ in terms ofage, gender, social class, educational and employment background,income, nationality, culture, religion, health, values, learninginterests and more. They probably learn differently too. You will have noticed that on the last slide the older peopleparticipating in the University scheme said that it contributed totheir feeling of self-worth. During the last ten years, in much of theliterature on later life learning in the UK but also world-wide, theconnection between engagement in learning activity by olderpeople and better health and well-being, even resulting in longerlife, have been much emphasised. It is urged that learning for olderpeople keeps the brain active, slows decline of cognitive capacity,prevents older people from being socially excluded by engagingthem in social situations, prevents depression, helps older people tocope with both the physical and social consequences of ageing andmore, much more. There is evidence brought forward for theseclaims but it has to be said that most of it is from the self-report ofolder people themselves, much of it is anecdotal. We will all say thatthese statements make sense, they are logical, we know in ourselvesthat they must be true. But the objective scientific evidence basedeveloped so far in the West is relatively weak. Partly that isbecause of the complex multiplicity of factors that are involved inany relevant research question and partly because terms such as‘well-being’ depend on subjective definition. Bearing all that inmind. I want you to look at two slides from a recent book by Findsenand Formosa. The first, from Australia, lists the types of claims madein the literature about the health and well-being benefits of learningand the second, from the United Kingdom, a table of hypothesesabout possible negative effects for the health and well-being ofolder people of learning activity.
Moving to a different topic, I think that it is important to tell youthat has been a steady rise in the UK and Western Europe ofintergenerational learning programmes which deliberately involvetwo generations in their activities. These are coming to be a subsetof lifelong learning and, where they involve older people, of later –life learning. They are recognised as having learning outcomesalthough learning outcomes may not be their prime or only focus.The notion is of two generations learning from each other.What is the origin of intergenerational learning? In the USA in the1960s and 1970s social scientists were recognising and evidencingthe increasing divide between generations there, the weakening offamily structures, the growth of single households, rising economicinequalities and other factors. In the 1970s and 1980s, in the USA,came the development of intergenerational programmes andprojects, including learning programmes, as a response to tacklesocial problems such as vulnerable young people or socially isolatedolder people. In the 1990s similar programmes were introduced intoEurope as part of revitalising problematic communities under suchnotions as “the society for all ages” with targets such as integrationof young immigrants, new roles for longer-living older people,schoolchildren learning to understand from older people the historyand traditions of their own community; young people learning fromretired persons with traditional skill craft and handwork skills andolder people learning information technology skills fromschoolchildren and students. The formal and informal learningoutcomes of such experiences for all parties might include theacquisition of new knowledge and skills but it might also include lesstangible benefits such as the experience of shared meaningfulactivity, of shared feelings of fellowship and belonging and a senseof being valued and worthwhileness.A considerable literature, at least in the UK, is growing up todocument the further benefits of intergenerational learningprogrammes. These are said to include, for example, giving childrenrole models, helping adults at risk, encouraging old and young to bemore aware of ageing and to reflect on ageing issues, reducinganger, distrust and fear between generations in a community andcreating a new form of social capital. It is again not clear to me thatall of these claims have yet been validated by empirical research.The importance of intergenerational learning has very quickly foundits way into United Nations, European Commission and nationalgovernment lifelong learning statements. Indeed, as you have seen,the two European Years associated by the European Commissionwith lifelong learning and active ageing (1996 and 2012) were alsodedicated to intergenerational ‘solidarity’. However, I think that
there are issues which have not been addressed. A significant bodyof good practice has yet to be built up and disseminated. Theprogrammes can involve untrained people in facilitation roles insituations that are sensitive, even confrontational.I now mention briefly scholarship and research into later lifelearning. Despite the discovery of the third age forty years ago, as Idescribed it earlier, and the numerous international policystatements on later life learning, which I have also described, we donot have a strong and connected development of scholarship andresearch in the field of later life learning in the UK and in Europe inmy view.. We have scholars, we have researchers, in the field butthe complexity of the questions to be asked, and perhaps structuralissues, seem to prevent development of overarching theory andestablishment of implications for practice and policy. Take thesubject of psychology for example. One can find a large number ofindividual empirical psychological studies on discrete aspects ofbrain changes in older people, on changes in their fluid andcrystallised intelligences, on differences in their attention span, ondecline in certain aspects of memory, and stability in others, and soon. There are even empirical studies of wisdom. Such studies oftenemphasise the provisional nature of their conclusions and/or theirrestriction to particular contexts and conditions. Therefore, it isdifficult to extrapolate from them to conclusions about later-lifelearning; it is difficult to make generalisations since learning relieson multiple cognitive skills, because older people are heterogeneousand the boundaries between ‘normality’ and ‘impairment’ inlearning function are blurred. If that is true for psychologicalresearch, it is true for research in other disciplines too.Consequently, we are some distance from successful attempts tolink results from one discipline with the findings of other academicdisciplines. So far, also, we have largely failed to integrate insightsfrom significant research in different countries across the world.That is why two years ago colleagues and I began an internationaljournal dedicated to developing and improving this situation calledthe International Journal of Education and Ageing of which I ameditor in chief. I look forward in the future to publishing articlesfrom Russian scholars and, of course, to having Russian subscribersand readers.I come now to my conclusion. The European Commission, indesignating the European year of 2012, declared that “the overallaim … is to promote active ageing”. On the one hand, we can say,Active Ageing makes sense as a policy imperative. In the face of theincreasing older population and the expanding cost of provision andcare for them, one can see why governments and care providers
look to older people to keep themselves as healthy, independentand secure as long as possible, learning to change their lives ifnecessary and to be “active”. On the other hand, the criticismswhich some scholars make of the notion of Active Ageing areinteresting and have some validity. They say, older people are beingasked, perhaps sometimes required, to be “active”, including beingactive in learning even if they do not wish to be. How and why olderpeople learn should be their decision. In this view, active ageing isbeing justified in terms of its savings on the health budget and therole of learning in it is not being valued as an intrinsic good. I wantfinally to refer you to an article by the distinguished British scholar,Alan Walker, who advocates a notion of active ageing as anintergenerational concept which should be considered at all ages oflife. It can be a positive concept for older people because it wouldembody both rights as well as obligations and be based on apartnership between individuals and society. Thus, consideration ofactive ageing, should ,in fact, start long before later- life but theeconomic gains which it might bring could be earmarked for thebenefit of those in their later years.