Lifelong learners

by | September 24, 2013

These lifelong learners are defying stereotypes as well as their own beliefs, thanks to the ILP programme by the Council for Third Age.

BY: Eleanor Yap

With the saying “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks”, these women from the photography course, which was part of the latest Intergenerational Learning Programme (ILP), have not only defied stereotypes about ageing, but also defied their own beliefs about themselves.

Lifelong learners Sunita Khemlani and Lily Bok.

Fifty-three-year-old Sunita Khemlani and a mother of three, shared that before taking the ILP, which is an initiative by the Council for Third Age (C3A), she was afraid of the camera. “My daughter kept telling me to just click the camera and not to be afraid as it is really just a camera.”

She decided to face her fears and to take the course, the fourth ILP course for her, but it wasn’t easy initially. “Fear was there at the beginning; I thought I was too old to take pictures. But later, I gained confidence. I am now able to take photos well and save them onto the computer. The interest to take photos was not there before but through the course, it got me interested.”

She said there were over 50 seniors and youths who took part in her course, which allowed them to even go outdoors to test their skills, and she was lucky to be paired with two youths from Jurong Junior College throughout the six-week course. “It was the first time getting close to youths besides my own children and I managed to open up to them. I found them friendly and I could interact with them. I initially thought they wouldn’t want to talk to an oldie like myself but I was wrong.”


Intergenerational bonding

For 65-year-old Lily Bok, who has no children, the photography course also gave her a chance to interact with the youths. “I told them how I used to live when I was younger – for example, we used to make our own toys like five-stone and there were few shopping malls unlike today. The youths were genuinely interested in what I shared.” For her, this was her third ILP course. She has even tried a drama course like Sunita and if another interesting ILP course comes up, she said she might just take another one.

And for Lily’s 70-year-old classmate, Eleanor King, she goes by the belief which she picked up in one of her trips to Norway, that you are “never old until 85”. She shared: “You need to keep yourself active.”

The mother of two and grandmother of one is a first-timer at attending an ILP course and was all praises about the photography course. “The students were very helpful and they can adapt to us seniors. They even treated us like their mothers! During the photography, we had to use the computer one time and the students guided us well and we seniors had to learn fast and catch up,” she said. “You shouldn’t be ashamed to learn; you must ask questions when you don’t know and you must continue to practice.”

Eleanor, who used to travel a lot in the past bringing along her camera before she had to take care of her grandchild, picked up many tips during the ILP course, including how to file her pictures, when to use a flash, saving her pictures on a thumbdrive and how to use the video function on her camera.

Ninety-one-year-old Lin Moi Thian joining her other classmates in a ukelele performance at the recent ILP appreciation and award ceremony.

Recently, the three women joined the more than 315 seniors and youths from the various schools including Tampines Junior College, Xinmin Secondary School, Raffles Institution, Singapore Chinese Girls’ School and Temasek Polytechnic, who took part in the courses including in social networking, infocomm technology, health management, digital storytelling and public speaking, at the biggest ILP appreciation and award ceremony.

During his speech at the inaugural ceremony, Gerard Ee directed his comments to those who completed the programme, “it does not mean that the path of lifelong learning ends here, in fact, this should serve as a beginning to your active ageing journey”. “If I use the analogy of a marriage, it’s likened to your love for your spouse and it should grow deeper and deeper with each passing day, as should your love for knowledge. … you should continue to nurture [your love for knowledge] and see it bear fruits in your active ageing journey.”


Breaking down perceptions

Since ILP’s inception in March 2011, C3A has conducted 180 sessions of the ILP with 18 educational institutions, benefitting over 1,000 seniors and youths. Its oldest participant to date is 91-year-old grandmother of four and mother of two, Lin Moi Thian, who took part in the recent ILP one-week course on ukulele with Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary). Moi Thian, who lives on her own, goes to daycare centre, St Luke’s ElderCare, during the day to keep herself busy.

Despite her age, she was actually identified by one of the course instructors as being one of the seniors with better skills on the ukulele and was given the G-Chord to learn (this requires three fingers on the chord unlike some other chords which are one or two fingers only). According to her instructors, she outperformed herself. 

Moi Thian said: “I really enjoyed learning how to play the new instrument and am happy that the students and instructors have been so patient with me. Strumming the ukulele makes me happy, but whenever I cannot hit the right notes, I don’t feel too happy with myself. If you ask me what my secret is [to being 91-years-old], it’s probably because I stay active and I never stop myself from learning.”

Moi Thian is learning from her "buddy" from Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary).

Besides the ILP programme encouraging seniors to pursue new passions and develop new interests, as well as strengthen intergenerational bonding, the ILP also changed perceptions that existed not only with seniors but also with the youths. According to an ILP survey findings from April 2011 to March 2013, 97 percent of the youths felt the programme has improved their perception of the other generation, and 92 percent are willing to maintain contact with their “buddy” after the programme. Also, 84 percent said ILP helped them improve their communication with their family members.

According to C3A, many of the schools they have worked with have come back for repeat runs. They have also conducted their first Chinese ILP in May and have included more topics like hair and scalp care and terrarium-making.


** The ILP programme is open to those 50 and above and the courses take place at the organising school. Most ILPs are free, however, some schools may charge a nominal fee or require a nominal deposit from participants. If you are keen on participating in an ILP, please call 6478 5041 or e-mail to:


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *