JUNE 10 — Malaysia’s demographics are undergoing a significant shift. The number of citizens aged 65 and above is steadily rising, reaching 7.4% in 2023 and projected to double by 2040. This presents a unique opportunity to leverage the wealth of experience this growing population holds. However, to unlock this potential, a crucial element is often overlooked: ageing education.

On 8th June, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri announced that the government is currently preparing its Ageing National Agenda as a whole-of- government revamp of health, education, finance, productivity and labour as well as the use of technology for the aged.

This should be celebrated.

For decades, our education system has resembled a rigid ladder: Early childhood programmes lead to primary and secondary schooling, followed by a choice between higher education or vocational training. Yet, at the very top, where a growing number of Malaysians now find themselves, there’s a critical gap — a lack of focus on “ageing education”. We’ve meticulously designed frameworks for building young minds, but neglected to equip our older adults with the knowledge and skills to navigate a vastly different world.

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The issue is further highlighted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) Survey of Adult Skills 2022-2023. Their early findings reveal a troubling deficit in core information processing abilities among the 50–65-year-old population.

Today many Malaysian seniors are already quietly leading a “silver” learning revolution through religious classes and social groups. While commendable, informal learning opportunities like these lack structure and resources. Fortunately, there are bright spots. Formal programmes like UPM’s University for the Third Age (U3A) and HRDF’s Senior Back in Action (SEBA) offer valuable avenues for lifelong learning and skills development. SEBA’s focus on upskilling and re-skilling empowers retirees seeking to re-enter the workforce or pursue new ventures. Similarly, programmes under PAWE, KEMAS, and OUM provide avenues for seniors to combat social isolation and empty nest syndrome.

However, challenges remain. Accessibility is an issue, with programmes often concentrated in urban areas or catering to specific groups. Additionally, declining physical abilities, family commitments and ageism can hinder participation.

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The push to “reskill” older adults for the modern workforce, while appealing, may not be the most realistic solution for everyone. Why? Upskilling millions requires significant investment, and age-related cognitive decline can make learning complex new skills difficult. A 2024 research by the World Economic Forum “Evolving Together: Flourishing in the age-diverse workforce” identified clear areas for action. The desire for greater flexibility is unmistakable for work to fit senior workers lives rather than the other way round. It found that while 60% of employers acknowledge the value of experienced workers, only 38% actively recruit older adults.

This disconnect between rhetoric and reality raises the question: Are we pushing a solution that doesn’t fit the problem?

Looking towards fellow Asian nations like Japan and Singapore can offer valuable insights. Japan fosters intergenerational respect through activities and school programmes, while their robust Long-Term Care Insurance programme provides a strong support system. Singapore’s SkillsFuture programme prioritises lifelong learning for seniors, offering financial aid for training and industry-aligned courses. They also offer subsidised lifetime healthcare through their MediShield Life initiative.

Japan fosters intergenerational respect through activities and school programmes, while their robust Long-Term Care Insurance programme provides a strong support system. — AFP file pic
Japan fosters intergenerational respect through activities and school programmes, while their robust Long-Term Care Insurance programme provides a strong support system. — AFP file pic

Malaysia’s approach to true ageing education needs to go beyond the individual. Upskilling and equipping caregivers with relevant knowledge on dementia, proper nutrition for seniors, and other relevant aspects of elder care will ensure they can provide the best possible support.

Ultimately it’s about societal transformation and the challenges are real. Overcoming digital divides empowers seniors to advocate for themselves, stay connected, and combat ageism’s negative stereotypes. Ensuring affordability are paramount but the potential benefits are undeniable. Proactive approaches like the upcoming Ageing National Agenda will be crucial steps for navigating this demographic shift and ensuring a fulfilling future for all.

Our seniors should not just reminisce about the past, but actively contribute to the present and shape a brighter future for Malaysia.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.