IT’S said you are never too old to learn. One school in Hangzhou has successfully put that to the test. The Jingjiang Senior Citizen School started its spring semester last week, with more than 180 people signed up for courses of Chinese ink painting, paper-cutting, calligraphy, choral singing, tourism and video.
The cost of each course ranges from 100 yuan (US$14.50) to 150 yuan, well within the means of most elderly residents.
This is the first school of its kind in a residential community in Jianggan District, and its success is expected to be a model for the roll-out of similar programs.
“Large schools for senior citizens have so many applicants that sometimes a lottery is created to handle enrollment,” said school principal Dong Liping. “Our school is small, so we don’t have that problem yet. There are no specific requirements for applicants. Many people who can’t get into larger schools are coming to us.”
Although the school mainly targets elderly residents in the Pujia Community, it is attracting people from other communities and districts. One old man travels from as far as Tangqi Town in Yuhang District for ink painting class every Monday.
The community committee revamped a local nursing home to hold classes and began enrolling students last September. In the fall semester, there were only 80 students, but as the number jumped this spring, more classes were added.
The course in paper-cutting is among the new offerings. It is being taught by Wen Shixiong, who starts with basic patterns and techniques.
All of the teachers at the school have long experience in teaching classes for the elderly. Xu Jie, for example, is a graduate of the China Academy of Art and teaches calligraphy and ink painting.
“I have taught both elderly and teenagers,” Xu told Shanghai Daily. “The elderly always have a higher enthusiasm level than young people because they go to classes out of interest, not just to gain exam skills.”
Xu admits he has to slow down the pace of instruction for older people, repeating instructions at times and giving them ample opportunity to absorb what he is saying.
The senior citizens are indeed enthusiastic.
“I have nothing to do at home,” said Huang Taosheng, 65, who is in the ink painting class. “Learning something new is much better than wandering around doing nothing.
“When we were young, we didn’t have much time or opportunity for the arts, but the inside desire to know more never fades.”
Huang joined the classes last autumn and is continuing his studies this spring. It’s not uncommon for students to keep coming to classes. That raises the bar for curriculum.
“In order to separate first-time students from those who have developed some skills, we will offer different class levels in the future,” said Dong. “But no matter how the curriculum changes, we welcome all people.”
In addition to ordinary classes, the school also offers lectures on home security and healthcare — two issues important to the elderly.
“Last year, we hosted a five-day lecture about how to prevent fraud,” Dong said. “Professionals in the field came to deliver the talks. That received a positive response from the seniors.”
The lectures reflect growing reports about swindlers preying on the vulnerable elderly. Many victims lose their life savings to fraudsters.
“Society is getting more and more complicated,” rued Huang. “I appreciate that the school is trying to help us lower our risks.”
Other popular feature lectures include how to use smartphones and give first aid.
“The smartphone lecture was packed,” Dong said. “Many seniors want to learn how to use the phones and social platforms to communicate with family and friends. The smartphone has become an indispensable part of modern life. Everyone wants to follow the trend, and seniors are no exception.”
Many of the elderly students live alone, and medical advice is also a valuable lesson. Doctors have been invited to give lectures on how to deal with health emergencies, administer first aid and call for help.
Lessons aside, the school is equipped with a cafeteria that offers a discount to the seniors. Freshly cooked meals are provided every day.
“Our community is an old residential block with a large number of elderly people,” said Dong. “We have worked out many ways to offer them services, including free haircuts and electrical-appliance repair. China is a country with an aging population. Making life easier for our elderly is something we all have to do.”