A university for seniors
Believing that one shouldn’t stop learning even at 80, a 67-year-old starts a community of learners so to keep minds active as long as possible.
Henry Ford once said: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Thomas Kuan, 67, is taking a page from the founder of the Ford Motor Co and has started U 3rd Age (University of the Third Age or U3A) in Singapore where seniors at whatever age, continue to keep their minds active through learning.
Courses being offered can include anything from creative writing and retirement planning to stretching exercises. Seniors come together to learn and also get to meet other seniors.
Ageless Online talks to Thomas to find out more about U3A and why lifelong learning shouldn’t be ignored:
Why did you start U3A-Singapore and how is it linked to U3As in other parts of the world? What year did you start it?
I founded U 3rd Age in October 2012 after the successful U3A International Conference in Singapore in August 2011. U 3rd Age is a member of the Asia-Pacific Alliance of U3As, which promotes and publicise U3A conferences worldwide. I started it so as to fill the gap of lifelong learning for seniors here who are living longer. U3As in other countries are for their seniors to be mentally- and physically-engaged in activities.
What are the aims/goals of U 3rd Age?
Our objects are to:
- Encourage lifelong learning among seniors in Singapore;
- Support networking of seniors as a way of self-developmental learning;
- Provide an environment where respect for life as a learning journey – making mistakes, missing opportunities, and learning to understand each other’s wisdom and cultural values. It is also the place where café conversations on healthcare, wealth creation, and spiritual development are held. It is such activities that contribute to one’s developmental learning.
How many members do you currently have?
Currently, U 3rd Age has about 20 active members, with more than 100 friends overseas. We plan to have an additional 100 members and friends of U 3rd Age in Singapore within the next two years.
What are some milestones of U 3rd Age in Singapore?
U 3rd Age was invited by Chulalongkorn University in Thailand to give a talk on setting up a U3A. We are happy this has been done there. We recently collaborated with The Arts House on the ‘Silver Creative Writing’ programme for seniors and we participated in the International U3A Conference in Melbourne in October 2013 as a member of the Asia-Pacific Alliance. We are now planning for next year’s U3A Conference in Nepal.
How are you different from other groups that offer courses for seniors?
U 3rd Age emphasises learning and peer-to-peer sharing. There is no real ‘teachers’ in our learning, only ‘teachers’ who are learners at the same time. It is our way of understanding each other’s cultural values as well as aspirations.
Could you share how many seniors benefit from your courses? What kinds of courses do you offer?
Six fellow seniors attended our first Core Health course (teaching the life energy measurement technique to understand the nature of our human expression of health) in May 2013. We hope some of them will become certified facilitators by next year and they can then help others to understand their health energy.
Also, 15 seniors are currently participating in our 10-session course on creative ‘fairy tales’ writing. Future courses for next year will include the ‘reflective writing’, Guided Autobiography or GAB, qigong exercises, and Core Health, which will be held once a year.
As seniors we believe in doing activities in our leisure time by organising informal group discussions on topics such as death, wealth and health, Bazi vs Western philosophy of learning, and other metaphysics topics.
How much are courses and membership to U 3rd Age?
Course fees are minimal for friends and members of U 3rd Age. We do not believe in charging high fees for coursex like GAB, which another organisation is charging. Presently, there are no membership fees. We operate like a social enterprise.
Is U 3rd Age associated with SACE (Singapore Association For Continuing Education), which you were once president?
SACE is an association for continuous learning. U 3rd Age is for ordinary seniors interested in lifelong learning; we have no relation with that association.
You talk about lifelong learning and keeping active – why is all this important to seniors and what are some challenges into encouraging seniors to be active?
Lifelong learning is important because we live in a multiracial, multicultural and multilingual, harmonious, urban society. The real challenges are for seniors to find meaning in their lives, and know who we are.
As someone who has been an advocate for seniors, what are three pieces of advice you would like to share with seniors?
With urban living where medical care is available, the average lifespan of seniors in Singapore has increased to 80+. As we have only one life, it is important to spend the best part of our life (after age 60) to enjoy the fruits of our working days. My three pieces of advice are:
a) Lifelong learning is important as this will keep you mentally healthy. Never stop learning even if you are in your 70s or 80s.
b) Be humble and happy for the daily 24 hours given to you. It is what we can do sharing our happiness with others.
c) If you have the time, volunteer (as a service-servant) as it is both satisfying and good for the soul. Do not be power crazy by seeking fame or positions.
As a senior yourself, how do you keep active?
I keep busy with voluntary work as the founder of U 3rd Age. I organise and conduct activities/programmes for seniors. For physical exercises, I do my daily qigong exercises for 30 minutes, and for mental development, I give talks/presentations on lifelong learning and ageing issues. At the end of the day, I wish seniors will have a voice and space as Singapore develops its arts and cultural scene.