Aging with grace, and the right to education

POSTED: 08/7/11 8:26 PM

Linda Richardson at Aging seminar

GREATBAY– Drs. Linda Richardson attended the first Dutch Caribbean seminar on aging last week inCuracao, where she was one of the speakers. This article contains the text of her presentation.

“In July 1982, exactly 29 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the International Plan of Action on Ageing inVienna,Austria.  At that time, the then Secretary General of the UN, Javier Perez de Cuellar, at the closing session of this Assembly pointed out that this subject matter, i.e. ageing, intimately touches upon the present or future of every man, woman and child who lives a normal span of life on this earth . Apparently, at that assembly, the ageing issue was a growing concern of the developed countries which required urgent attention.

A few years later, in 1991, the United Nations Principles for Older Persons encouraged governments around the world to incorporate 5 principles into their national programs, namely independence, participation, care, self-fulfillment and dignity.

No specific mention was made of access to education, knowledge and training.  

In September of 1999, at the 4th Global Conference on Aging, with representation of 68 countries, the Montreal Declaration was adopted which made general and specific recommendations to the United Nations, were to be included in National Plans on Ageing in the various countries.

Among the recommendations on aging are assuring the universal access of older people to economic security, food, health care, shelter, clothing and transportation; assuring that employment barriers for older people are eliminated by the provision of the training and work opportunities and appropriate work conditions; and strengthening intergenerational dialogue, exchanges, collaboration and mentoring.

In the Montreal Declaration, great concern was expressed that the previous International Plan of Action on Ageing (1982) was not fully implemented and that the rights of older persons in most societies were being violated.

Another worrisome aspect was that the number of elderly persons in the developing countries was tripling and that precisely these countries which were confronted with enormous economic difficulties, lacked the financial, social and health infrastructure and resources to address the aging issue.

In other words, it is one thing to age with dignity inFranceorEngland, with many facilities for the elderly, including special discounts on transportation, cinema, tuition, education, dating services and even anti-aging clinics. But, it is quite a different ball game to age in poverty in the poorest country in this hemisphere,HAITI, with illiteracy, high HIV AIDS rate, natural disasters, hurricanes and earthquakes and hardly enough basic facilities for primary health-care.

 

The second World Assembly on Ageing, held in Madrid in April, 2002 focused on three priority areas to ensure the full and true participation of elderly in their societies.  Such priority areas had to be implemented by the year 2012, one of which is the right of the elderly to Access to Knowledge, Education and Training.

In this respect Madrid International Action Plan on Ageing states that:

1)      Education is a crucial factor for an active and fulfilling life and that a knowledge based society requires that policies be instituted to ensure lifelong access to education and training. 

The question to be asked here is what initiatives have been taken in our Dutch Caribbean societies to encourage life-long learning process of the elderly.

The rather idealistic policy document: Education for One and All, Ensenjansa pa un i tur, which I attempted to implement as Minister of Education and Culture of the Netherlands Antilles in 1985 was not at all related to educating older persons in our societies, but was basically geared towards bringing about a thorough reform in the educational system in the then Netherlands Antilles.   

2)      In all countries lifelong education and training are essential for the participation of older persons in employment.

In our countries, the 60th birthday is considered the last working day. This ad hoc age discrimination in employment which is set in the LMA, (civil service regulation) is a violation of human rights and is taken for granted. Also, this pensionable age is unjustly and illegally used in the private sector to get rid of workers.  As a result, lifelong education and training is not encouraged since once pensionable age is reached, workers are not expected to continue working.  

 

3)      A workplace with a diverse age distribution creates an environment where individuals can share skills knowledge and experience.

Regrettably, the new countries in theDutchKingdomfailed to create such a workplace with a diverse age distribution in the process of building up the new nations. In many instances, rather than maintaining qualified pensioners who are able and willing to contribute, foreign personnel, totally unfamiliar with the local society and culture, are being employed. In the workplace, older staff could serve as mentors and advisors, while the younger staff could share technological skills with older workers.  

 

4)      Older persons facing technological change without education or training can experience alienation.  Technology can be used to bring persons together and thereby contribute to the reduction of marginalization, loneliness and segregation between the ages. Measures should be taken to enable older persons to have access to, take part in and adjust to technological changes should therefore be taken.

Skyping, chatting on-line or sending text-messages facilitate communication of older persons without having to write long letters and waiting weeks or even months for an answer and without incurring high telephone bills with an already limited budget. Many older persons are not familiar with BB’ing or using the possibilities of the internet.

 

5)      Training, retraining and education are important determinants of a worker’s ability to perform and adapt to workplace changes. Greater emphasis on access to knowledge, education and training opportunities is needed for older persons in the workforce.

As was stated before, older persons are being excluded from the workforce at their 60th birthday and sometimes even before reaching pensionable age. Just recently, a management course was organized for school managers in St. Maarten. A school principal in St. Maarten, who wanted to improve her managerial and leadership skills, excitedly registered for the course. Great were her shock and her disappointment, when she was refused access to the course and was told that she was too old to follow the course as the course was meant for younger persons. In a few years from now, she will be 60.  

6)      At the present time, developing countries have a large number of persons reaching old age with minimal literacy and numeracy, which limits their capacity to earn a livelihood and may thus influence their enjoyment of health and well-being.

To my knowledge, we do not have figures on illiterate elderly persons and do not know if all older persons can read a newspaper or a book. Are older persons encouraged to become members of the public library or to establish a reading club? It is would be interesting for a study to be conducted on illiteracy among the elderly. This is a task the University could embark upon.  

Adult Education and life-long learning is hardly promoted, let alone continuing education for the elderly. Contrarily, in theNetherlands, it is not uncommon to find seniors attending the university or embarking on vocational education courses and graduating after retirement age. This is practically unheard of in the Dutch Caribbean, where it is assumed that the elderly has nothing more to learn. In many instances, once a person reaches the age of 60, he or she is considered finished and their participation in the work force and the community is no longer valued.  As such, older people in these islands are not given the opportunity nor are they encouraged to learn a new trade or a new skill. Such an effort would not only be good for the society as a whole, but also for the elderly themselves, since studying or learning a new trade or skill would enhance their self-esteem and will boost their brain power and their health.

As persons age, they should be equipped with knowledge on how to cope with challenges of ageing and how to improve their health and life-style to live longer, healthier and happier lives. Older persons should receive information on how to age actively, how to remain independently as long as possible, and how to age in good health, with dignity and with grace.

In this respect, permit me to briefly inform you of a multi-faceted project that I recently embarked upon, entitled AGING WITH GRACE. This project encompasses several activities including aspects of providing information to seniors and older persons. Too often, older persons are disregarded and disrespected and tend to resign to living with depression, diseases and health issues. Some seniors merely exist with no quality of life at all and are just waiting to exhale.

On Fridays, I volunteer at the Golden Age Foundation presided by Patricia Flanders at theJohnLarmonieCenterin St. Maarten. I provide information on health issues, lifestyle changes and nutrition and also teach movement, breathing and stretching exercises and dance. I remind the seniors that at this stage in their lives, it is important to engage in some sort of physical activity. I remind them that when a door does not open and close regularly, the hinges will rust.

A handbook on AGING WITH GRACE is also in the making, the first part of which describes the signs and symptoms of aging; the following sections provide information on what steps to take to slow down the aging process and refer to some common illnesses and diseases, which may accelerate the aging process.

While co-hosting the radio- and television program: There is no wealth without health, I seize every opportunity to share knowledge with and provide information on health issues to others.

The amount of older people in our societies is on the increase, and so are diseases and ill health among them. Some of these diseases could be prevented if the seniors are informed and are willing to make some life style changes.

Dr. Don Colbert, MD states in his famous book: What you do not know will kill you!e that many persons ignorant of the causes of diseases will die from them. Otherwise stated in Hosea 4:6 “My people will perish for lack of knowledge!”  

Knowledge and training on financial matters

Besides diseases, poverty among older persons is on the increase. Consequently, Government and the private sector should provide their workers with  information on retirement, money issues and money management long before reaching retirement age.

Another aspect of education which requires serious attention is education about ageing and the care for the elderly to the families and various agencies and companies in the society. Too often, old people are considered a burden; they are labeled as humbugup and are described as being set in their ways. Old people are generally not considered an asset but a liability. Just recently I was struck by the following sentence in an English newspaper which stated: “We had the Euro crisis that we are trying to get over; the banking world is just getting back; but now we are faced with all those pensioners and old people, who are demanding their pensions and bankrupting the economy!  Imagine, the pensioners are being blamed for bankrupting the economy by collecting what is rightfully theirs.

In this respect, I must commend the organizers of this First Caribbean Seminar on Ageing and encourage them to continue disseminating information on the effect of the aging population in our societies. I also thank the organization for inviting me to participate in this seminar and to share some of my ideas on this issue.

In 2002, it was decided that the Madrid International Action Plan on Ageing and its objectives should be implemented by 2012. To what extent has this plan been implemented in our societies?

In the National Policy for Older Persons of our neighboring islandAnguillamention is made of the MIAPA and the difficulties to implement the objectives outlined. However, we are happy to note that the Anguillan Policy for Older Persons recognizes older people as the cornerstones to the development of their country.  It further states that it is the obligation of Anguillans to ensure that older persons can spend their lives with a sense of independence, self-fulfillment, dignity and peace.

In closing, it is recommended that just as is indicated in the Anguillan Policy for Older Persons, in our societies also, elders should be treated with due respect and should be recognized for their contribution to the development of our societies. All persons in our societies are also called up to develop a society for all ages, in which persons are allowed to age gracefully, in dignity and in peace.  

Recommendations:

  • Immediately initiate an awareness campaign on the 2002 Madrid International Action Plan on Ageing and its objectives throughout the Dutch Caribbean;
  • Immediately embark on providing knowledge, education and training to older persons in the Dutch Caribbean;
  • Make provisions for older persons to participate in courses of all sorts, in particular, information and communications technology;
  • Encourage older persons to go back to school;
  • Make full use of the potential and expertise of older persons;
  • Conduct research on various aspects of the elderly and the aging process and its impact on these societies;
  • Participation of Dutch Caribbean representatives in Kingdom delegations to International Conferences where issues of aging and the elderly are discussed; 
  • Make an inventory of human rights violations and the violations of the rights of the elderly throughout the Dutch Caribbean;
  • Initiate a campaign to respect the elderly and stop treating them as a burden and as victims;
  • Allow the elderly to spend the rest of their lives with a sense of independence, with a sense of self-fulfillment, with dignity and in peace.

 

In closing, I want to quote the great Abraham Lincoln, who said: “It is not the years in your life that count! It is the life in your years!”

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