Crises are social disruptions. Though they are mostly thought of as misfortune, crises are anything but misfortune.
Over the last decade Slovenian U3A in common with its European partners has devoted all of their projects to new educational topics and formats as well as the digitalisation of older people’s education. To be honest, the digitalisation of its programmes could have been more efficient, though older students overtly prefer social and physical contacts within their study groups over the digital ones. Using digital methods was more a matter of students’ curiosity than true wanting. Then, in March, suddenly all turned upside down.
All over Europe adult educators started dealing with the issue of digitalisation of later life and older people’s education. At Slovenian U3A educators have participated in numerous digital conferences both as participants and lecturers. They thematised older people’s digitalized education, wrote articles, participated in radio programmes, digitalised 30% of their educational programmes, trained more than 400 mentors and students on how to use Zoom and TeamViewer. Finally, the most recent Slovenian U3A’s conference was entirely devoted to the digitalisation of older people’s education. The conference was meant for 55 leaders of third age universities, members of Slovenian U3A Network. The focus of the conference was on personal and social aspects of digitalisation of later life education.
If you can do it, I can do it too.
Having access to the digital procedures is a both privilege and a right enjoyed by few. Distance education enables you to live normally in the midst of the sanitary crisis and to survive it while included in education. Zoom offers several opportunities. It is cosy, for instance. In lecture rooms students remain seated and ‘caught’, listening to the lecturer, though they may not be interested in what is being said and their span of concentration is not long enough. Zoom makes it possible for them to listen and simultaneously carry out some other tasks. However, there is one condition sine qua non for distance learning to be performing. Learners must have become autonomous learners, listening and learning with a pencil in their hand, not just listening. Learners that have forgotten ‘schooling’ and have stepped over into the world of learning.
While digitising education, mentors of older students play new roles animating them to join the Brave new world. A great number of older people have voluntarily cut themselves off the digital world which they do not know well enough. The world that can be brave, once older students learn how to manage it, if their mentor and their social environment do not oppose them but trust them, truly believing the worthiness of digital learning.
Digital inclusion into the contemporary world is a privilege, since only 53% of the world population have access to digitalized procedures. Digital learning enables older people to appreciate themselves emphasised Prof Dr Ana Krajnc. It has to do with decent living. Tone Dolčič, a lawyer speaker pointed out at another international conference organised by BAGSO and Age Platform Europe. He stressed the need to devise and adopt a law on the everybody’s right to be part of the digitalised world. Nobody should be left behind in the times of digitalisation, older people in institutional care included. We should all have this right. Moreover, the right to be digitally included should be worded in policies on digitalisation.
Distance learning is not a new phenomenon
In England the industrial growth needed secretaries who were trained in Pitman’s Correspondence School for typists. In 1966 came on the educational stage Open University, the most famous innovation in adult education ever. It was located in a small village near London since hiring offices in London was expensive. There, in that village, a high-rise building was built hosting a post office. Each day, parcels of learning and exam materials were sent off to students who in this way could learn at their own pace and what they wanted to learn. In the first decade 150,000 adults received their education there.
Quite early in China it was possible to study architecture at distance. Students were supposed to help each other studying being in positive interdependence. Nobody could be left behind. Today, this type of studying is being called collaborative learning.
Moreover, Jeremy Rifkin, the economist, argued that systems ‘dwelling on mortar’ should be forgotten. Traditional educational systems also need buildings whose blocks are joined by mortar, while today’s AE and education in later life cannot be dependent on built premises. In these, hopefully, transitional times, they will have to move to the web and be conducted at distance.
Is social pain a new concept?
Dušana Findeisen centred around the new definitions of social inclusion and exclusion since these phenomena are different today. In the past the socially excluded were those who had a bad economic status and had to be brought back into and by strong society. Today social exclusion is a massive phenomenon and social inclusion is not only about overcoming economic but also relational precariat, people being deprived of stable and non-interrupted relations of social, physical and digital nature. In the times when we are left with less relation of the first two kinds, maintaining digital relations has become essential. Man cannot be deprived of relations. Being alone too long you feel social pain resembling the pain one feels when in urgent need to drink or eat. Without relations the immune system suffers argue neuroscientists and you become sick.
When 37 years ago we were founding the Slovenian U3A we did not have in mind only the transmission and creation of knowledge! What we wanted to create was public space for humanizing older people’s life, where older people could be performing, innovative but also seen and heard and socially included. Today’s public space is being moved to the web. Having a number of functions. Public space belongs to each of us. Moreover, those who fail to be in public space are already socially dead.
Dr Dušana Findeisen (firstname.lastname@example.org), Slovenian U3A