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Euroopa täiskasvanuhariduse veebikeskkond



Without the pain, there is no gain!

by Tiina Tambaum
Keel: EN
Document available also in: ET FI DE LV



In Estonia, lifelong learning is honoured

This summer, we went to Russia, where we were driving across Kaliningrad Oblast and Pskov Oblast. In the museums and the zoo, where the price list promised student discounts, I produced my ISIC card and my fellow traveller – a vocational student’s card. Immediately, we were told that our looks undoubtedly gave our age away as the marks of grey were clearly visible.

We were laughed at. Ticket aunties looked out of their boxes in astonishment: “Students? Um… Are you joking?” One even offered us a pensioner discount.

After describing this experience to my colleague Katrin Saks, she told a story about Tallinn Coach Station. Katrin was waiting for her turn to buy a ticket from a coach driver. Everyone one in front of her were young students who asked for a student ticket. When it was her turn, the coach driver asked: - “Any discount?” – “Hm. What kind of discount do you offer me, student or pensioner’s?” – “Um, life-long learning,” the driver prompted with a broad smile.


Universities for seniors are full of students

In Estonia, adult education is no wonder to anyone. Estonians have always highly valued education and tried to train their children and develop themselves. In response to the aging processes in society, the state also offers a solution through learning. Citizens need to stay longer in the job market and need to acquire new skills, learn at work and attend courses and seminars.

But if you are definitively out of the job market, either on your own or against your will, it suddenly turns out that life will last, but no one will ever be waiting for you to learn. Although, in Estonia, the rate of participation in courses for men in the senior age is even higher than in other European countries, only 1-2 out of 100 non-working people participate in courses or trainings for aged 55+. In other words, courses are rather for those who can pay back the expenses incurred.

You may ask, how come. We saw at the beginning of September at prime-time news that when President Kaljulaid attended the opening year ceremony at the University of Tartu for seniors and Vanemuise Street Auditorium, one of the largest in this university city, was filled with grey-haired audience. Universities for seniors operate in Estonia in about ten cities. In every larger municipality, day centres for pensioners are open, where you can learn new skills or attend hobby groups in a less formal form. No one will be banned if a person wants to go to a folk university or some other training centre. Additionally, learning does not necessarily exist in formal form. According to the socio-cultural learning approach, any purposeful joint activities, including participation in a dance group or song choir, in a hunting, gardening or veteran club, is enough for development.


Participation in education falls sharply at age 65

Statistics from the SHARE survey say that if we add to training club activities, volunteering and participation in community management, we get a quarter of the population aged 55+ who are involved in learning in Estonia. The activity drops sharply at age 65, just when citizen retire. We are the biggest crashers compared to other SHARE countries. The optimistic description of the learning that lasts at the end of our lives is like a look at a sands grain, floating alone in the huge grey sea, through a magnifying glass.

Every fifth of Estonian citizen is over 65 years old. The proportion of people who have been deprived of active life is and will remain high. At the same time, the centres that appeared to provide older people with opportunities for development are dragging in the past, afraid of active advertising of their activities. “The groups are full, and the resources of the house are exhausted,” says Ivika Kärner, Head of Lasnamäe Social Centre. Universities for seniors use the largest venues in the cities, but despite this, mass lectures cannot host everyone who wants to attend. To register for participation in the University of Pärnu for seniors, the elderly had to stand in a lively queue (Pärnu Postimees, 31.05.2017) – a relatively disrespectful way to fight for their right not to land mentally. The Club of Välgi Village Kanarbik in Tartu count can only be attended once a week, as more frequent joint activities are limited by the lack not by lack of interest, but lack of transportation opportunity.  Nõmme Club for seniors cannot be expanded because there is no money for heating the premises.

In addition to the fact that the volume of opportunities offered does not go hand in hand with the aging tendencies of society, there must be a sense of stagnation and naivety. For decades, day centres and universities for seniors have not been disturbed by the fact that men do not care about their programs. They did not want to admit that opinion polls and satisfaction surveys among current participants do not increase the attractiveness of the offered program for newcomers. If, in the working life, physical disability has long not been a barrier to doing common things, then in a non-working life, the rule of refusing the participation in joint activities for people with physical problems is not an exception. (Here, I think of Mrs. Siina, who cannot afford to go to folk dance due to balance problems and ask: where it is written that we cannot offer folk dances, that can be danced in a wheel- chair).


The need for learning and self-realization is permanent

For the fresh local authorities, however, I would like to note that that the lives of older people are not limited by bread and circus. Instead of sending elderly people to the cinema or concert, one might wonder how they can develop and apply their skills and knowledge in the community, receive recognition and attention, an opportunity to share their own thoughts and ideas with younger ones. Before a person became old, he was middle-aged and young. As you get older, the character and nature of the person will not change. Therefore, a person who has learned and worked for a lifetime does not turn over abruptly to as a consumer of culture and entertainment, whose self-realization is only based on shopping or fiddling around.

We are an educated country, where the concept of lifelong learning does not require introduction to ticket vendors or coach drivers. What needs introduction is the fact that a structural dropping out is built into our lifelong learning system. There is no need to be skilful if you don’t do any work.

Tiina Tambaum is a researcher for the Estonian Centre of Demography at the University of Tallinn and a lecturer of education gerontology at the Institute of Educational Sciences. Tiina is a researcher, trainer and leader in topics of elderly people development, elderly men involvement, intergenerational learning and co-operation topics (see

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  • Kasutaja Santa Pētersone pilt
    Jāpilnveidojas ir visu laiku, mūsu strauji augošajā pasaulē nemaz nevar neko nedarīt. Ir jāseko līdzi visiem jaunumiem, tādēļ arvien biežāk ir redzami studenti, kas nav gados jauni. Tas ir tikai apsveicami, ka vecā gada gājuma cilvēki uzdrošinās mācīties un konkurēt ar jaunajiem. Jāņem vērā, ka viņiem šāds process ir daudz smagāks un sarežģītāks. Arī Latvijā būtu nepieciešams popularizēt mūžizglītību.
  • Kasutaja elina nesterenkova pilt
    Latvijā ka Krievijā ir veci standarti, ka pēc 50 gadiem cilvēkam jau jādomā, ka dzīve beidzās un vairs nevajag mācīties vai apgūt kaut ko jaunu un nezināmo priekš sevis. Un tas nav pareizi, kamēr cilvēks mācas viņam ir interesanti dzīvot. Kad cilvēks uzzina jaunas lietas viņu organisms ražo enerģiju lai visu iedomāto realizētu. Bet Latvijā dzīvo tāds standarts ka līdz 50 tu esi darbaspējīgs, bet pēc jau nē. Un tādus cilvēkus neatbalsta, nepalīdz atrasts sev jaunu profesiju. 
  • Kasutaja Ingrida Birzniece pilt
    It was very interesting reading about life long learning in Estonia! No one should be limited to what they can or cannot do/learn because of their age. More countries around the world should be supportive of life long learning.

    About the schools and clubs that cannot host more seniors: do they ask for a small fee to pay for heating and material costs? If they did, would they be able to host more classes for these willing citizens?
  • Kasutaja Tiina Tambaum pilt
    Dear Ingrida
    Thank you for your comment. You asked about the reasons why clubs cannot host more people. These Day Centres for older people have been established 25 years ago when the older population was smaller. Now the situation is changed but municipalities do not recognize that. They are proud of big numbers but these numbers are not interpreted as an increased demand.
    Our participants pay a small fee (e.g. 1 euro per time), but it is more like a disciplinary tool that does not cover the real costs.  
  • Kasutaja Muneeb AHMAD pilt
    Thank you for this informative blog post, it has lovely insights into lifelong learning in your country. 
  • Kasutaja Tiina Tambaum pilt
    Dear Muneeb, thank you for your kind remark.
  • Kasutaja Elena Trepule pilt
    I like your text very much - especially the coach driver's response - you are such a smart country if even coach drivers are aware of lifelong learning :); and I like an idea of inviting the President to the event of Third Age university. Or maybe to the Graduation - when happy Third Age graduates receive their hard earned diplomas...
  • Kasutaja Tiina Tambaum pilt
    Dear Elena
    Yes, I liked this story about the coach driver as well. Our coach drivers are witnessing the learning abilities of our population - they see student card holders who have the right to get discount. But they also see the (un)ability of older population to use e-tickets etc.
    What regards to the President I am pretty critical about this. First, our Universities of Third Age tend to be populist and provide topics and presenters that are popular and highly valued by the target group. But new skills and topics what are necessary for older people as active citizen are rather out of attention. But of course, all means that help to bring older people out of their homes and interact are good.
  • Kasutaja Erol Bağcı pilt

    Hello from Istanbul,

    It was very meaningful and effective article first of all thank you for this article. In every society minorities like handicapped people and/or elder people may be ignored. We always keep in mind that one day we will turn out old people so the life conditions and health services reflects a society's point of view to older people.

    As a lifelong education institute older generation is always welcomed in our school. We have a student in her 80's that attends art class in our institute. She celebrated her birthday with us.

    To sum up if we are a developed country one can understand it looking to old generations satisfaction.


    All the best,

    Mastering Beylerbeyi Istanbul Sabanci Institute

    Erol Bağcı



  • Kasutaja Tiina Tambaum pilt

    Thank you, Erol fo your for your comment! 

    I would like to add that older people cohorts are not a minority any more but lifelong learning opportunities are still limited for them. Our productive mindset restricts us to think in a more humanistic way.