Mahjong and gossip give way to Third Age education

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong's elderly will be encouraged to swap mahjong and park gossip for computers and English classes as part of a government push to promote active ageing.

A range of classes for the elderly could be offered at schools across Hong Kong as early as April and an education institute specifically designed for older people could eventually be established, chairman of the government's Elderly Commission Dr Leong Che-hung revealed this week.

'I believe the elderly of today and tomorrow are very different from those of the past. They want to be continually active. They might want to learn something that they have been yearning to for years but have not had a chance,' he said.

Hong Kong's elderly community is growing rapidly, with researchers predicting that by 2033, a quarter of the population will be aged 65 or older.

Dr Leong said the classes would be held outside school hours. The Department of Health would conduct health education, while students, teachers and alumni would also act as teachers. Courses could include English, computers or calligraphy but it will be up to schools and elderly groups to decide.

Eighteen schools covering each Hong Kong district would be chosen to run classes and work with non-government organisations to encourage elderly people to join.

'We're really trying to achieve not just elders who can learn something but we want to achieve intergenerational harmony,' Dr Leong said.

He said some of today's senior citizens may have had a strong desire to go to university but never had the chance because they had to provide for their families.

'There are people interested in learning English who never had a chance, all the way to people who have already got a fairly good education but would like to get a university degree.'

The next step could be to create an education institution for the elderly.

Dr Leong said there were already such institutions on the mainland and a number of countries had set up a University of the Third Age.

The first university, which caters for retirees, started in France in 1968 and the concept has spread to countries including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Professor Alfred Chan Cheung-ming, director of the Asia Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies at Lingnan University, and vice-chairman of the Elderly Commission, said attending courses would help elderly people remain physically and mentally active. 'Keeping the mental faculties active is part of a very effective mechanism to delay illness such as dementia,' he said.