In the UK, we will have a particular view of what life stages are like based upon our experiences. The majority of people would probably look back on their childhood in a certain way, even perhaps romanticising as to how things used to be before the pressures of adulthood kick in, or remembering with dread some dreadful experiences and everything in between. In other countries of the world, people will have an equal range of memories and experiences of childhood. What is common to all is that the recollection of childhood is often a personal one, because everybody has lived through it already. Perhaps that is why everybody seems to have an opinion about child education – because we’ve all been through it in some way or other and can use experience to qualify our judgements in some way, even if we are not up with the latest cutting-edge research.
Now, when we are dealing with older adult education, we are in a different position – at least those of us who are not yet older adults are, We have not lived through the experiences of older adults and therefore have to rely upon non-empirical evidence. Ideally we should include in our gathering of influential evidence some people who have been and are at that stage of life, because it will be impossible to have such retrospective experience in this area.
This is a fundamental consideration for policy changers and makers, because, in order to find the best solutions for sectors of the population, we have to take note of what those sectors of the population feel, experience, fear and desire etc. It is perhaps all to easy for a person who is well-fed to make decisions for people who are malnourished, but solutions need to call upon evidence and data from a range of areas such as science, sociology and ecology. However, a person who knows what it is like to be truly hungry, because they once were, can provide a valuable insight into the nature of the issue.
In a similar way, an 80 year old person who has undergone depression may well be an extremely valuable resource in developing preventative techniques for depression. But how often are 80 year olds included in research? How often are opportunities missed for us to properly understand the very people we are trying to make life better for?
With an ageing population, we must actively engage older people in a wide range of research to best find solutions for the issues we are facing already today and will face in the future. It strikes me that this concept immediately creates capital that can make an active contribution to society. This must become a recognised part of our communities as our older population, given the chance, could become one of our most valuable resources if their wisdom and experience are tapped effectively.